I know of at least 22 homeless people who’ve died in the past 12 months. Many of them died on our sidewalks, including one man who was found near the entrance of the Chico Chamber of Commerce. A few days ago, a woman was found dead under a bridge on Mangrove Avenue.
Butte County has long had a significant homeless population and little affordable housing, but in 2018, we lost nearly 15,000 homes in the Camp Fire. A disaster of this scale had never happened in my lifetime, and many locals, our county supervisors among them, agree that we have a shelter crisis.
Those who are housed may not be directly affected, but the crisis has very real consequences for those on the streets.
For the woman who was 10 minutes late to the shelter, it meant sleeping outdoors and getting raped. For several homeless senior citizens I’ve talked to, it meant being robbed or beaten. I am haunted by the memory of an elderly man I happened to see on the sidewalk, barely able to crawl, stripped to his shorts, his face and body beaten bloody after a run-in with a few young thugs.
If you think I’m dramatizing, I urge you to get to know unhoused folks or even just watch Storied Streets on Netflix. The movie ends with a quote.
To paraphrase: The question is, “How long are we going to let the homeless languish in life-threatening conditions before we see that proper shelter is a much better deal for all citizens?” And the answer will say more about us than it will about them.
Providing shelter to those on the streets is a “better deal” for the entire community for numerous reasons, both practical and moral.
Operating campgrounds and tiny home villages costs less than police work and emergency room visits. The net effect of these living spaces is that there will be fewer desperate people on the streets. Moreover, such facilities are not associated with a rise in crime.
Recent research from UC San Francisco shows that the vast majority of chronically homeless people who are given stable shelter with permanent supportive services remain housed. In addition, tiny home villages in Marysville and Eugene, Ore., report that those given stable shelter get their lives together in six to 24 months.
Morally speaking, offering real shelter is in line with the wisdom and ethics of what is perhaps our most important spiritual lesson: Love thy neighbor.
This is your opportunity. Be leaders. Lead us to a better deal. With liberty and justice for all.
The author is a member of North State Shelter Team, CHAT and Chico Tree Advocates. He’s lived in Chico since 1972.