How City sidelined the “quickest and simplest option” for unhoused people Winslow: "the government owes safety and security to everyone"

by Addison Winslow
guest commentary posted Sept. 3

The Warren v Chico settlement forced Chico into a reckoning with homelessness; such a reckoning that city policy now has the effect of a boulder rolling down a hill. Not once since I was sworn into office last December has the City Council been asked for or given direction on homelessness.

photo by Karen Laslo
City staff cleared Depot Park Aug. 31, evicting people from what had become the last large encampment.

Taking the settlement forced on us by a federal court as the entirety of our City’s policy to address homelessness puts Chico in a rut. Because the court decided that a shelter bed only qualifies as a token for eviction if it is indoors, we have sidelined the quickest and simplest option to improve conditions of people camping in public spaces: managed camping in an environmentally responsible location. The biggest absurdity of this is that, as part of the settlement agreement, we have sanctioned campgrounds (three of them, technically, though all at the same intersection), and regulation is just piecemeal or nonexistent.

Because these campgrounds are a product of a federal court ruling and not any independently thought-out strategy, the most legal option available to anybody to enter the campgrounds is to accumulate an excess of dogs and plant themselves in such an inconvenient place the City prioritizes them for eviction. Indeed, the number one reason people have been assessed for the campground is that they have too many animals to be admitted into an actual shelter.

At this point it would be competitive to become a priority encampment for eviction. As the last large encampment at Depot Park is being cleared out, people are scattering to camp in increasingly further reaches of the city. Neighbors reach out to the City Council distressed that their neighborhood could now be host to people in need.

I want to add a bit more on dogs because their sometimes-snappy behavior illustrates how, even with campgrounds that are indisputably the responsibility of the City, public health and safety are disregarded in their operation. First, no City Council ever directed staff to stop enforcing off-leash laws in encampments. That was an administrative decision that made encampments in parks considerably worse for the general public.

In July, eight dogs at the Eaton encampment attacked a cyclist and a woman who stopped to help him. A month later, during a blistering heat wave, a contracted worker tasked with refilling the water tank at the campground left after being threatened by off-leash dogs. The water consequently ran out over the weekend. This week I visited a friend of mine living at the encampment who showed me her own wound from a neighbor’s dog. She agrees dogs need to be controlled, but without management she has no recourse.

In my position as a city councilor in today’s political climate, I’ve become accustomed to arguing with a presumption of indifference to the lives of unhoused people. My personal feeling, however, is that the government owes safety and security to everyone, housed and unhoused alike. As it stands, passersby assault and harass people in the Eaton encampment. Recently, I’m told, someone tossed a firecracker over the fence which exploded late at night. Because so little care has been put into the arrangement of camps and the exposure to the wind, arsonists could torch the place like Chico’s Old Chinatown. It is, in so many respects, an utterly untenable situation and at the next opportunity, on September 5, I will be requesting a discussion of management and an intake and referral process independent of eviction.

photo by Karen Laslo
Councilmember Addison Winslow

Addison Winslow represents District 4 on the Chico City Council.

16 thoughts on “How City sidelined the “quickest and simplest option” for unhoused people Winslow: "the government owes safety and security to everyone"

  1. Basics of Successful Managed Campgrounds
    A secure fence
    A place for a gate monitor
    Common space
    A place to prepare food
    Delivered drinking water
    Porta-potties and hand washing station
    Garbage receptacles and service
    A few of the basic rules:
    No drugs or alcohol used onsite
    Violence or threats of violence are not tolerated
    Participants must attend: regular meetings, (where group co-management decisions are made); work parties; and personal check-ins with Action Plan Advisors or case managers
    Every participant commits to help keep the place clean.
    No unauthorized visitors
    No overnight visitors
    A Program of Social Engagement:
    Action Plan Advisors (and or case managers) assist participants
    Teach self-responsibility and the value of following basic rules
    Provide a peer-supported environment to overcome anti-social behavior.
    Camps limited in size to a maximum of 35 participants.

    1. Thanks Charles – but your excellent list is missing an important element, one that could be instituted tomorrow: the City should require that owners of pets must keep them under control – or lose them! No matter if it is in one of our parks, on the sidewalk bike path, or in the current designated campground.

      I do not get why unleashed dogs are allowed to terrorize other campers or the general public in public spaces. I do not get why it is not city policy to require pets to be controlled. I have heard several chilling stories of people being attacked by unleashed dogs. I was one – not bitten, but surrounded by 6 pit bulls snarling. I was terrified until their owner finally called them off. It took me days and an appointment with the then City Manager before any action was taken.

      1. Our current version of our Safe Spot Handbook is 12 pages and has 8 rules about pets. The above was just the highlights.

  2. From Matthew Desmond a MacArthur “Genius” and Pulitzer Prize winning author, researcher and professor, “The increase in abject poverty in the U.S. should spark a moral urgency. We are in the midst of some shocking poverty that should shame us, because we possess the means to mitigate it.”
    And we have chosen not to.

  3. In your own words, you told us the camps can’t really be managed. Let me ask – who would be willing to be “in charge”?

    we need to stop making new rules for people who just don’t want to keep our old ones. We all agree on standards of behavior so we can live together without having to call 9-1-1 every twenty minutes.

    Where’s the “humanity” in putting people in tents outside in a town where summertime temps top 110 and wintertime rains and freezing temperatures killed a woman in a camp at Walmart. The animal shelter is better. We already have square miles of low-income housing, from various agencies like the city, the county, HUD. But a lot of it is owned by out-of-town slumlords, and it’s in disgusting condition. I won’t even hear about camps, until the city moves in their legal rights to get slumlords to clean up low income housing.

    Meanwhile, the city is responsible for miles of deteriorated streets, drainage, sewers, power lines and lighting in these broken down dysfunctional old neighborhoods, and has done nothing for what – 40, 50, 60 years?

    I expected more out of you – I gotta stop putting you people on pedestals, it’s all the sadder when you don’t pan out the way I hoped.

  4. A coalition of local nonprofits could be “in charge”. The city needs to put out a “Request for Proposals”. Several plans have been proposed that the city has not acted on. When there is sufficient case management and community involvement there are good standards of behavior. Look at Community Supported Shelters and Square One Villages in Eugene or 14 Forward in Marysville. Improving low-income housing is great, but it takes years. Safe, managed campgrounds could be had before winter. It’s a shelter crisis.

  5. I grew up 14-17 on the streets in Chico. This article is one of the first if not the literal first from someone in power to actually care and say something. The cops, the people, the city council, the entirety of this town is so horrible to their unhoused community. Hate crimes from the community is a part of it, but not nearly As frequent as being attacked and harassed by the Chico City Police Dept. They would show up and harass us and tell us we’re just bad kids who don’t wanna listen n that’s why we’re on the streets, when all of us were abused super bad … they’d tear down our camps without even giving us much of a warning at all, many times were violent with us, they’d literally create intricate plans to sneak up on us so they take all our bongs/ weed/ tobacco just because they can, smash them right in front of our faces and laugh at us. I get it we were not legally allowed to smoke weed yet but that’s just bullying at that point. At one point Officer Durfee posted a picture holding up two of our bongs on Facebook and Instagram and everyone was angry even the parents, saying things like “wow such a noble duty, stealing bongs from kids” and being clearly sarcastic, the community responded so badly to it that they had to delete the post. This is the most mild of the things they did. Every morning at 5 on the dot they’d come find us at shine their lights in our eyes and scream WAKE UP WAKE UP NO SLEEPING HERE no matter where we were, under a bridge, in a park, behind a fucking dumpster. There was a special unit for us street kids too, their casual harassment wasn’t enough so they made an entire police force unit dedicated to watching and harassing us constantly, daily, nonstop… the weirdest part is the street kids that have gone missing in police custody… no one to look for them or call for them, no one to stand up for them or speak for them… one day arrested, then never seen again? That definitely doesn’t sit right with me … I’ll leave that there

    1. Dear Poison, I hope you are not still on the streets but are safe and well. I have heard from many campers that the bullying of law enforcement is some of the worst stressors they face, and is rampant in our community.
      I also agree with you that most campers, and especially youth, have endured trauma at the hands of parents and caregivers. This trauma is like something out of a monster movie, and frankly is not always believed by adults who have been fortunate enough to have not experienced this. Studies have shown again and again that our unhoused neighbors suffered from severe trauma which contributes to substance use,, mental illness and being Youth experience their family as too dangerous to live with.

      6th Street Center is an organization committed to helping unhoused youth between the ages of 14 to 24. Their number is 530 894 8808.

  6. Thank you Addison. I do hope there will be the political will among at least three more City Counselors to make substantial improvements in city policy and practice. So many of us are sick at heart with every eviction, yet feel that there is nothing we can do. Thanks for speaking up and lighting this fire. ChicoSol readers – show up at the City Council meeting this Tuesday (tomorrow) and give voice to your concerns. Plus, if you are in any district but Addison’s, urge your council person to get behind making the changes Addison is proposing.
    Chico is many years behind schedule in responding responsibly to this crisis of homelessness. Now is the time for a turn-around!
    Poison – I am so sorry for what you had to endure as a homeless teen. Time for transformation in Chico – thanks Addison, for leading the way from the City Counsel dias!

  7. I have delivered food and water to the camps-Comanche, Wind Chime, Depot Park, and Eaton/Cohasset. There is not a tree growing nor a creek flowing at Eaton/Cohasset. There is no shade, no windbreak. When it rains the dirt becomes mud.
    The dogs run in packs, get pregnant and deliver 6-7 puppies, who join the pack. I have been told some animal group was going to neuter the dogs but before they could do so the dogs were pregnant.
    No drinking water was delivered until recently and only after several non-profits expressed grave concern.
    A managed campground is so needed. The North State ShelterTeam has presented proposals. Numerous community members have written letters to the editor pleading for a humane solution-A managed Campground.

  8. What has been declared, is a “Shelter Crisis.” Yes, some of the people living on the street belong in a mental health hospital, but not all. After visiting with the unhoused weekly in Chico for a few years, my estimate is that 30% need major mental health help and that 70% would respond to a well-managed campground with case management.

  9. At last night’s city Council meeting the city moved forward on arresting people for pushing shopping carts (down the street) and making pan handling illegal, and Addison’s motion to discuss a managed campground (that might have actually helped people get out of homelessness) died for lack of a second! 4 citizens with prepared comments in favor of a managed campground got their speaker cards to the clerk too late. Only one speaker at “Business from the Floor” spoke in favor of managed campgrounds to speak of. If you want to speak you have to have your card on the clerk’s desk before folks start speaking. If we don’t have more interest in civic affairs, we will pay the price. A dozen significant issue last night and few people cared to share their thoughts.

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