Chico’s homelessness solutions are going nowhere


Photo credit: Diego Ramirez

Homelessness in Chico is one of the city’s most salient problems. Yet as we adopt increasingly aggressive policies towards the homeless population, it becomes more evident the problem is only getting worse.

According to the 2017 Homeless Point in Time Census & Survey Report, it’s estimated that 0.88 percent, or nearly 7,500 people, of the Butte County population does not have a home. Worse, this number is growing. Chico showed a 92 percent increase in homeless from 2015 to 2017 in their biennial “point in time” survey.

Although Chico is pursuing a mix of policies to tackle this problem, many of our newest laws concerning transients could be described as more militant than humanitarian.

As shown on the City of Chico Media Archive, City Council voted to swear in Park Rangers and arm them with handguns on Sept. 5. Bidwell Park is a refuge for Chico’s homeless population and by adding handguns into the mix the relationship between Park Rangers and the homeless can only become more antagonistic.

In Nov. 2013, Chico attempted to simply hide the homeless population from citizens eyes by enacting a “Sit-lie” law, prohibiting sitting and lying on sidewalks in specified areas, as seen on the City of Chico Media Archive.

This law was pointed at protecting commercial properties and preventing a loss of business downtown, but by banning specific areas Chico has only moved the homeless out of sight, not actually helping the homeless population at all.

If no one sees how bad the problem is, and no one can look at these people’s sufferings, then maybe everyone will just forget about the homeless.

Either way, the Chico taxpayer will continue to feel the impact of these laws. According to a recent academic study of Chico’s homeless, Impacts of Chico’s Public Safety Approach to Homelessness, policing the homeless population has cost the city approximately $901,833 between 2010 and 2016.

To be sure, Chico engages in more constructive policy, such as affordable housing, or implementation of homeless shelters. These are fantastic ways to assist the homeless, but as shown on the 2016-2017 City Annual Final Budget, 2016-2017’s affordable housing fund balance of $573,912 is a significant decrease from 2015-2016’s $770,334.

It’s worrying that many of Chico’s recent policies are more concerned with attacking the symptoms of a problem than rooting out the issue at hand. Arming Park Rangers or enacting “Sit-lie” policies only hide the chaos from our eyes, they don’t help the homeless. Worse, they cost the city significant money, which takes away potential funds for more constructive policy, such as affordable housing.

There’s no perfect solution to homelessness. It’s an issue that intersects with mental health and economics and is one of the most complex problems that American’s can tackle. There may be no way to completely solve homelessness.

However, Chico faces a significant choice. The city can choose to look away from the problem and delude itself into thinking that things are better, or it can face the issue at hand and actually attempt to make a difference.

Grayson Boyer can be reached at [email protected] or @gray_boyer on Twitter.