Protecting the community from COVID-19 includes protecting the unhoused

By Scott Huber

The City Council’s recent vote to direct the Chico Police Department to discontinue the “eviction” of people experiencing homelessness from existing camps during the current public health emergency was a painful but necessary process.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidance for responding to coronavirus among unsheltered populations. The primary directive is clear: “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

Concurrently, the council was informed by community members that, amid the confusion over best practices to control the spread of the coronavirus, officers were observed asking unsheltered people to remove their tents.

Listed on the meeting’s agenda, under City Manager’s Report, were the topics of homelessness and COVID-19. During this report, Vice Mayor Alex Brown made a motion to (paraphrased) “discontinue the eviction of persons experiencing homelessness from encampments during the Public Health Emergency.” The legality of council taking action on a city manager’s report was questioned, and the city attorney advised that only by labeling it an emergency motion could it be allowed. In response, the vice mayor amended the motion as an emergency, the motion was seconded by me, and then voted for by me, Brown and Councilmen Karl Ory and Randall Stone (Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilmembers Sean Morgan and Kasey Reynolds opposed).

During the council’s debate on the motion, the police chief had made clear that his officers were using discretion in their handling of growing encampments and indicated that the department could continue in that vein. So, why codify the action? The reason is simple: to assure clarity in complying with CDC guidance by providing specific direction and therefore removing ambiguity from the handling of encampments during this public health emergency.

We know that homeless individuals are vulnerable to the disease for various reasons: substandard health due to being malnourished, inadequate access to sanitation, and less understanding of and compliance with health and safety guidelines. But the implications go beyond just this population. As recognized by the CDC, in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, unhoused people who are forced to change locations or groupings pose a risk of spreading infection not only to other unhoused people but also to social workers, health care workers, public safety workers and ultimately to the community at large.

While the council’s action was needed, we know that this is only a Band-Aid. We must work harder to address the impacts of homelessness by helping unhoused people with solutions along a continuum that includes sanctioned campgrounds, low-barrier shelters, tiny houses and long-term housing. Recent actions in Chico include the city hiring a homeless solutions coordinator and a request for information from groups interested in creating extremely low-income housing on city-owned land. Both show promise that progress on the bigger picture may be forthcoming.

Reducing the impacts of homelessness in our community has been my No. 1 priority as a council member. By first addressing and solving the challenges experienced by unhoused people, we thereby begin to solve the challenges that homelessness poses to those of us with the good fortune of having a roof over our heads.

The author is a member of the Chico City Council.

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16 Comments

    • This was a very foolish and reckless decision by a city council majority that disregards the health, safety, and wellbeing of the tax paying citizens of Chico in favor of the criminal transients, that have overrun our city, trash and degrade our beautiful parks, open spaces and fragile waterways and ecosystems! These transients roam the city pillaging, threatening, vandalizing and stealing while dropping used drug needles, provided to them weekly to enable their addictions, all over town without consequence or penalty! This council, in their unwillingness to hear and respect the outcry of the citizens and small business people of Chico, have assisted in turning a once green and lovely place to raise a family into a BROWN, unclean, unsanitary and dangerous place to live! This is REGRESSION not progress! You have proven time and time again that you are unfit to lead in any capacity, in good times or in crisis!

  1. Your decisions were foolish and based on NOT following all of the guidelines. You can hide behind bullet point one, but rest assured most of us have read the same CDC Guidelines. How about you discuss the guidelines of ensuring that campers have a minimum of 12×12 clearance between their tents? Hiw about you talk about the correct number which is actually 9 or less not 10 or less but you council members charged it to ten to justify dropping portable toilets and sinks? How about you talk about the CDC Guidance to CONTINUE individual outreach?

    Simply put, tell the whole story Scott.

  2. And have the homeless stayed in one place?
    Are they wearing face masks and staying 6 feet apart?
    Does not look like it from news reports.

    Some homeless folk comprehend the covid-19 danger and do their best to stay put within a small camp sites.
    How are they getting food?
    Do they have wash stations?

    The homeless I worry about are the ones wandering to score drugs, money, food or booze.
    Day or night scaveging still keep them busy with the potential to spread all kinds of disease not just covid-19.

    They will be the ones who will spread back to campsites and the rest of Chico.

    I have been self isolatimg and sheltering in place since March 9. My family brings me groceries and I have 3 months of prescriptions.

    • Well aren’t you a fortunate one now aren’t you Anita. You should count your blessings instead of shaming someone with less.
      Do you have a supply of masks to provide for them? If our hospitals can’t procure them, why are you expecting our homeless populations to have access?
      You talk about these people as if they are animals, and that’s the real shame.

  3. Bidwell Park will never be the same. It has been 10 days and as many pictures show, our once clean, beautiful park is in shambles. Shame on the four council members who voted this into place. Do State and Federal laws not matter anymore? Or do they only apply to people who can pay fines when the law is broken? You and the others claim to have our environment in mind as well..thats a joke! Our waterways, creeks and soil are contaminated and will only get worse the longer folks are permitted to camp in the park. People are watching and when it comes time to vote again, dont be surprised when none of you are reelected.
    Cite as: Cal. Fish & Game Code §5652.
    (a)It is unlawful to deposit, permit to pass into, or place where it can pass into the waters of the state, or to abandon, dispose of, or throw away, within 150 feet of the high water mark of the waters of the state, any cans, bottles, garbage, motor vehicle or parts thereof, rubbish, litter, refuse, waste, debris, or the viscera or carcass of any dead mammal, or the carcass of any dead bird.

    (b)The abandonment of any motor vehicle in any manner that violates this section shall constitute a rebuttable presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence that the last registered owner of record, not having complied with Section 5900 of the Vehicle Code, is responsible for that abandonment and is thereby liable for the cost of removal and disposition of the vehicle. This section prohibits the placement of a vehicle body on privately owned property along a streambank by the property owner or tenant for the purpose of preventing erosion of the streambank.

    (c)This section does not apply to a refuse disposal site that is authorized by the appropriate local agency having jurisdiction or to the depositing of those materials in a container from which the materials are routinely removed to a legal point of disposal.

    (d)This section shall be enforced by all law enforcement of the State.

  4. You are perverting and Cherry Picking CDC guidance. CDC also says you should shave all your facial hair, have you? CDC also says Marijuana is bad for mental and physical health, what has been your stance on Marijuana sales in Chico? You are a hypocrite. You are not good for Chico. This, as well as the other things you have tried in life, is not your “thing”.

  5. You’re using vague CDC guidance to further your agenda. You have no plan for cleaning this mess, repairing damages done or defending homeowners who border these public spaces that are. Ow encampments. This is another example of short sighted liberal progressiveness that’s been destroying the fabric of Chico. You use the excuse that funds for this are coming from thenStatemor Federal governments but at the COST OF QUALITY OF LIFE we are NOT OKAY WITH! I expect you have a plan to back out of this “emergency “ action and clean up and restore damages done DAY ONE!

  6. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication at trying to find help for our homeless population. I know it’s not am easy feat, no less compounded by the constant pushback and ignorance from a community showing little compassion for those that are suffering on the streets. It’s a shame that we don’t see more support in helping with housing and service support. Imagine where we would be now had we already had the full support of citizens put towards housing and not blocking it.

  7. Scott,

    I find you a hypocrite. You clearly do not have the complete understanding of this situation. I do not have the “good fortune” of owning a home, I earned it. I chose to follow the law of the land, stayed away from drugs, remained financially responsible and worked hard to be able to buy my home. I have to continue to make my mortgage payment or my home could be repossessed. These are some of my choices. Just as someone who chose to do drugs didn’t have the misfortune in doing so, it was simply a choice. A bad one, but still a choice.

    Secondly, you do not “evict” what is already an illegal action. Eviction comes from a landlord to their tenants when they have due cause to do so. When someone squats on public or private property, the eviction process is not used. It is called “trespass”, or a violation of local ordinances. What the homeless are doing when they build their encampment, spread their garbage and needles, do their drugs and cause undue stress to our parks, waterways and city as a whole is already illegal. The foul four of the city council just opened the gates for this massive problem to spread even further throughout our city and tie the hands of our already over worked and over stressed police staff. Our Chief of Police is an outstanding citizen that actually does have Chico’s best interest and heart as well as having a complete understanding of proper legal action. Something I think you are rather unclear about. This decision just clearly defines on a broader spectrum that November voting can’t come soon enough. Chico citizens are fed up with poor management and the masses intend to continue to educate the citizens of Chico on what the agenda really looks like from you, Brown, Stone and Ory. You’ve called yourself an environmentalist and ran for council strongly on that pretext. Have you walked the city and actually seen the damages and environmental impact the homeless are placing on this city? SHAME ON YOU!

  8. The Council’s action, and Huber’s attempt to “explain” are insulting to our residents. He blindly took the side of the DSA over the Chico PD. And I want to know, or see this so called “proof” of police moving transients or camps FOR NO GOOD REASON. I am sure they were moved for social distance protocols (which I am sure if someone asked later “were you told to move” they would say yes). Or there was illegal activity or residents being hassled. YOU MR. HUBER SHOULD BE ASHAMED. The encampments growing in Bidwell Park were NOT THERE before the virus! People ARE MOVING AROUND regardless of your “proof”. You also disrespected the new Housing Coordinator who is up close & personal and goes out in the field. DID YOU GO SEE FOR YOURSELF OF SO CALLED POLICE ABUSE? Or talk YOURSELF with these social services staff who are CONFUSED about the rules? My young niece is 100% clear. Don’t gather in groups of >10. Don’t move. They were NOT SHELTERED IN THE PARK when this was ordered. You all should have reacted SOONER as there are other options. There are a lot of Social Services staff in this City it seems and you had to know this was going to happen. BIDWELL PARK IS OUR CROWN JEWEL. Even the Mayor of SAN FRANCISCO is doing everything to protect Golden Gate Park and not allow encampments to set up in the 1st place.

  9. First time in Chico’s history that we have had to declare a shelter crisis. Now the virus crisis reveals the disaster within the disaster”, the ever more rapidly accelerating rate of grueling poverty which compounds our public health problems and economic vulnerability. Thank you Council for your action.

  10. I guess the sea turtles are old news now huh? Have you looked around our town lately? Looks more and more like skoda row. Why not find a designated place for camps instead of wherever and all over. I thought he cared about the environment? Who do you think will clean up all the hazardous waste along the creeks? I hope the EPA comes down on y’all hard.

  11. Character is destiny and crisis reveals character. Once again, Scott, you prove two things: 1) you did not think this trough before you voted; and 2) you are out of touch with the vast majority of Chico citizens. Your problem is policy making is that you lack balance, and like the well-known sunshine pump for all that is progressive and collective, you assume that disagreement can only be based in ignorance. That is arrogance and vanity, Scott. Good policy balances the interests of competing views, but for you there is no competing view, which is why you refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue with those who oppose your policies. We are not ignorant or stupid. You should consider that when you find yourself operating from your sense of self righteousness. Just a little humility would be a welcome change; just acknowledge that you cannot always be 100% right. Why do you behave as if you are?

  12. Where do all of you want people who have lost their homes to go? I fervently want to get them off the street. How can we do that? Please! How?! Orange Street wouldn’t have been enough but it would have helped a lot. Same with CHATs tiny houses. Please all of you help us who are working to keep you and them safe, where is a good place? They are mostly Butte County residents not transients at all. We just need safe spaces! I repeat, safe!
    We really want you to feel safe, just not at the cost of human lives. Please help us find space that everyone can agree on.

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