by Dave Waddell
While some who had been living outside for months on a triangular island of city land seemed quite worried about their uprooting, 42-year-old Cindy Hurt said Monday’s intervention led by Chico police provided the prospects of a “solution.”
With the arrival of very cold and rainy weather, Chico PD’s so-called Target Team, along with Butte County Behavioral Health and Torres Shelter personnel, tried to usher an estimated 20 residents off the land, which is bordered by Little Chico Creek and Pine, Cypress and East 12th streets. Some residents were still packing up this morning.
Hurt, describing herself as “one of the original islanders,” said she is “used to a certain lifestyle” and had been living in a tent at the site since August.
“There were only six or eight of us out here, and then all of a sudden it blew up,” Hurt said. “I understand the perspective of the community: Too much trash.”
Hurt spoke with ChicoSol at her campsite while awaiting the arrival of a van that was to take her and others to the First Christian Church. The church was described by Chico police Sgt. Cesar Sandoval as a temporary shelter that will transition into Chico’s Safe Space Winter Shelter program, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 16.
Hurt’s belongings had been loaded for her onto a pickup truck that was to take them for storage to the Torres Shelter.
“They came to us with a solution for us,” Hurt said of the intervention. “Sandoval, he’s really out here trying to help us.”
Sandoval said the Target Team had been doing outreach to the islanders for the past month because “this is not a healthy place to be” given the season. “Nobody’s been arrested and nobody’s been told” they’ll be arrested if they don’t leave, Sandoval said. “We’re not out here for any show of force. We’re here to do the right thing.”
Still, all of the handful of residents interviewed by ChicoSol on Monday seemed to feel obligated to fold up their tents and leave the island, even those not headed to a shelter.
Worry showed in the eyes of Jason Merced as he looked over a pile of possessions he hoped to keep while taking down his campsite. “I just want to save as much plastic as I can,” Merced said. “It’s nice to have a piece of plastic” in inclement weather.
Neither Merced nor his girlfriend, Dawn Twaddell, said they were interested in the shelter option.
“I’m not into that,” Twaddell said. “It’s Chico. Where can’t you go in Chico? Chico is awesome.”
Their neighbor, Lusan Whitaker, who will turn 57 in two weeks, said she isn’t going to any shelter, either.
“I’m just going to be out hiding in the bushes,” Whitaker said. “I get up when I wake up, and they have a (rule) you have to be in before dark. … I just don’t like to be told what to do.”
Whitaker, who said her street name is “Big,” advised to “not downgrade us because we don’t have a home. We’re some of the best people you can know.”
Another longtime islander, Eric Johnson, 48, said as he folded up a tent Monday that he intended to spend the night at the church shelter, but then return to the triangle during the day. Johnson said he plans to stash one of his tents out of sight in a nearby oleander bush.
Johnson said not all interactions with police have been positive during the six months he’s lived there.
“There is what some call the goon squad of cops they from time to time send out specifically to roust sleeping transients,” said Johnson, who has been “living outside” for four years following the death of his common-law wife. “You’re asleep and they come along to move you along.”
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.