Guest comment: Public health and human rights

Evicting homeless from parks is inhumane and increases the chance COVID-19 will spread

Rich Ober

The recent eviction of homeless people from Lower Bidwell Park is not reflective of a compassionate community. What happened there amounts to an inhumane disregard of human rights.

Let me be clear and address those who have said that I or others actually want people camping in our parks and greenways. I do not want people camping in our parks and greenways. Likewise, the people camping in our parks and greenways do not want to be there. They are there because they were instructed to shelter in place to remain safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fact is, due to the virus, local shelters have no available beds. As pathetic as it is, and it is a disgrace for our city, this has been the safest alternative available. Yes, safest. For all of us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that homeless people shelter in place. The agency also warns that breaking up encampments increases the chance the virus will spread.

Despite the CDC’s guidance, the city, egged on by our new City Council, moved in with force to kick human beings, our fellow citizens, to the curb. Despicable, deplorable, unconstitutional and inhumane. And unsafe, because of the pandemic, for everyone in this community.

Many of us witnessed and recorded the city’s response, offering aid to homeless individuals and attempting to hold the powerful accountable. And I have to wonder: Where were the council members who gave this direction? Where was newly elected Councilwoman Tandon, in whose district this took place? Where was newly appointed Mayor Coolidge, who is charged with serving all citizens of Chico? Clearly this was the action the current council majority wanted, so why weren’t they there to see it firsthand?

To those in the community who find this unconscionable, let us recommit to advocating for those whose tents and chairs and sleeping bags and water bottles got scooped up, crushed and tossed into dump trucks. We must show the current council majority that we won’t look away, and we must demand that they put a stop to this appalling direction.

No evictions until there is shelter.

Rich Ober is a community organizer and former Chico City Council candidate who has served on multiple local nonprofit boards and city commissions.

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