Chico’s blind eye to the homeless


Photo credit: Helen Suh

It seems like Chico’s homeless problem is getting worse by the day.

Every time I see one of these people I get an upset feeling in my stomach, like something doesn’t sit right. There is some sort of problem that needs resolution.

Any time I walk to school, hop in my car to go to the store, or step outside my house for any reason, I inevitably come across a homeless person. I can walk down Chestnut Street and be sure to find several transients pushing shopping carts or rummaging through trash cans. Saturday I’ll go to the downtown plaza and find a small group of homeless people turning the plaza into their home for the day. As I write this in the library I spot one wandering the second floor.

If these anecdotes don’t convince you there’s a problem, look at the statistics. In 2015 the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that for every 10,000 people there’s twenty who are homeless.

What exactly is the problem? I don’t want to cloak it in economics or politics by saying this person is jobless or that person could use a welfare check because that tells us the solution must also be rooted in politics. This is not a political problem, it is a problem with our values. There has been a devaluation of human life in our culture, and most people lack the basic value of charity.

I wouldn’t dare make assumptions about other people, but It looks like most others don’t see this problem or they have become numb to this upset feeling. College students seem to notice stray cats more often than they do stray people. If this doesn’t alarm you, then you are part of the problem.

In my apartment complex last year we had our regular homeless people come through to look for supplies. We college students can barely afford to pay for ourselves, so it’s a little difficult to care for these people too, but Chico has an abundance of alcohol so we were more than happy to give them our empty liquor bottles and beer cans.

Just our alcohol containers. Well, our trash is the most we could afford to give these fellow humans.

How generous of us. These people wander the streets every night in search for something, anything to help them reach tomorrow. And by our grace these people are blessed with enough garbage to extend their reach to not just tomorrow, but with any luck the rest of the week.

Meanwhile I’m in my apartment, finding out how much trash I can buy with my latest paycheck. Will I have a bottle of vodka or a wine bag this weekend? Shall I eat at The Bear tonight or Burgers and Brew tomorrow?

Some say these transients don’t deserve my charity. They are most likely homeless for a reason and any money I have is earned. If they wanted they could earn money as well. However this is a distorted view of charity. Charity is not giving to people who deserve to be given to – that is called justice. Charity is giving to those who do not deserve to be given to. It’s contradictory to say these people don’t deserve my charity.

What I notice is that most people would like to tell themselves that the government should help these people or these people should help themselves, but why can’t we help these people, you and I that is. I don’t mean finding some short cut to lift these people up, like pointing them in the direction of some government institution. I mean why can’t we give these people some of our time, some of our earned money, go down to the Torres Community Shelter and help these people?

I will admit that I am hypocritical to this point. I turn a blind eye when I walk passed a transient, and I too spend my Saturday in my house rather than a halfway house, but that doesn’t make anything I’ve said to be wrong. I too lack this value of charity, maybe this is why I always get an upset feeling in my stomach.

Jeff Guzman can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.