Identity crisis

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Joaquin and Nandi Crosby-Jordan don’t distinguish between people who became homeless before or after the Camp Fire.

The first day Chico State classes resumed following the campus’ Camp Fire hiatus, a student approached sociology professor Nandi Crosby-Jordan with an ethical question.

“Dr. Nandi,” the student asked, “how do you feel about people who’ve been homeless for a long time taking advantage of resources for the displaced?”

Crosby-Jordan had a ready answer: “I don’t feel the need to distinguish.”

She realized, perhaps, there might not be enough supplies for everyone. She also knew the resources that have come to Butte County because of the disaster are, as she told a group Saturday night (Jan. 12), “the types of things the homeless community have been asking for, for a long time … not until after the fire did we see certain people as ‘deserving’” of assistance.

Crosby-Jordan, chair of the university’s Sociology Department, shared this perspective during a presentation about economic justice in Butte County. The occasion was the annual community meeting for the Chico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which drew a standing-room-only audience to the Chico Women’s Club.

“It’s not your job to judge,” she continued. “Your job is to show up and love. Your job is to ask the universe how to help.”

Crosby-Jordan originally had planned to speak about economic justice in general terms—and, indeed, she discussed the difference between equality (e.g., everyone getting the same thing) and equity (everyone getting the same access to opportunity). But, at the request of ACLU chapter President Shelby Chase, Crosby-Jordan homed in on local homelessness, particularly since the disaster.

She also invited her husband, Joaquin Crosby-Jordan, a counselor and case manager at the Torres Community Shelter, to participate. When she asked him the greatest lesson he’s learned about people while working at the homeless shelter, he replied: “The only distinction is they have a different address….

“It doesn’t matter what triggered homelessness,” he later said, “they are the same. If you give [someone] a pair of socks, they don’t say, ‘I’m predisaster homeless, the socks feel different.’”

After the presentation, Chase explained her request to focus on homelessness.

“I was very touched to see people’s outreach from the Camp Fire, but I was disturbed that before this [so many] people had no humanity for homeless people, no empathy, and afterward are categorizing why [they’re] homeless,” she said, “never once thinking about what brought the previously homeless people into that situation.

“I think recognizing that there is that divide will lead to change.”

The ACLU is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose members serve as watchdogs for civil rights infringements in matters such as police practices, freedom of information and privacy.

“I think people don’t recognize homelessness as a civil liberties issue,” Chase said. “They don’t see that their civil rights are violated.

“Here in Chico, they take away their access to public restrooms [at night]. The people here who criminalize the homeless, who think that to issue citations or take them to jail is the solution, I can’t even comprehend it.”

Social and economic justice encompass factors beyond homelessness: race, gender, sexuality, economic status, incarceration. With the county’s demographics, Crosby-Jordan understands the emphasis locally. She noted that many displaced by the fire already lived on the cusp of homelessness.

“We have disproportionate numbers of people of color [in poverty], but my students are always surprised to find out that, just in sheer numbers, whites are the poorest people in America,” she told the CN&R, adding: “I don’t think that our story here … is rare in America.”