City seeks public input on vagrancy


City leaders and community members reconvened after holding break-out sessions to discuss how homelessness in the city could be addressed productively.

Hundreds of people crammed into the city council chambers on Tuesday night for a special study session geared toward finding solutions to homelessness and rising crime in downtown Chico.

The session began with a brief presentation by Clean and Safe Chico, a campaign started last year that brings businesses and non-profit service providers together in an effort to address vagrancy and homelessness.

Katie Simmons, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said that volunteers have been effective but that only the city can address crime.

“We can’t fight crime,” Simmons said. “We are here to ask the city to do that.”

The participants at the session were split into several groups with each directed to focus on either enforcement-based or service-based solutions. Individuals wrote out their ideas and then voted on which were the best and prioritized them. Everyone then returned to the council chamber and group facilitators reported on the results.

The number one message sent by the public was the need to fully fund and staff the police department, which has experienced significant reductions in employees due to the city’s budget crisis.

On the enforcement side, suggestions included adopting a sit-lie ordinance, enforcing laws that prohibit camping in City Plaza and on-foot patrols of the downtown area by police.

Among the service-based ideas were implementing a day resource center, establishing a housing camp area for those who will not or cannot go to existing shelters and increasing awareness of services available to the homeless.

The City Council rejected a previous sit-lie ordinance in August. The council members who voted against it at the time said it was an ineffective tool and that the city would be fining people who have no resources to pay.

The council should immediately have the city attorney revise the previous sit-lie ordinance so it can be brought back for a vote as soon as possible, said councilman Sean Morgan.

Many of the council members said they would reconsider their position if the revised law has some kind of enforcement beyond a monetary fine. The updated civil sidewalks ordinance will be reviewed at the Nov. 5 council meeting.

The problems that face the city on homelessness and crime are daunting, but measures need to be taken as soon as possible to address them, said councilwoman Mary Goloff.

“I don’t think we should let the complexities of the issues cause us to freeze and not take action,” Goloff said.

Bill Hall can be reached at [email protected] or @thebillhall on Twitter