Still in crisis

Butte County supervisors extend shelter crisis declaration

Comanche Creek homeless encampment. (CN&R file photo by Jason Cassidy)

On Tuesday (Aug. 10), the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on a resolution to extend the shelter crisis declaration for Butte County. The original resolution was approved in September 2018, the month before the Camp Fire, and had expired June 30 of this year. Supervisor Doug Teeter was the only member of the board to vote against the extension that will run through June 2024.

The move comes as the area’s homeless population has grown while the county’s housing stock continues to suffer due to the impacts of the destructive Camp and North Complex fires.

While introducing the item, county Housing and Homelessness Administrator Don Taylor noted the number of unhoused people in Butte County for the 2019 Homeless Point in Time survey was 2,304 people, up 16 percent from 2017’s census.

“We are still experiencing a shelter crisis,” Taylor said.

In explaining his “no” vote, Teeter said, “This isn’t a shelter crisis, it’s a mental health crisis.” He said he feels the laws around how mental illness is treated are at the root of the problem that needs to be addressed, an idea which received support from Supervisors Debra Lucero, Bill Connelly and Tod Kimmelshue.

During the meeting, Teeter also suggested that “people standing around panhandling rather than working” was an issue, and he said another alternative to the term shelter crisis might be “I don’t want to do myself better in society crisis.”

Supervisor Tami Ritter reacted to those remarks, saying the Point in Time numbers are actual data that the decision should be based on. “To suggest that people aren’t working or are panhandling or want to be where they are or don’t have actual mental illness is not based on anything except emotion, and that’s not how we make decisions,” she said.

Earlier this year, Chico’s City Council allowed its shelter crisis declaration—originally made on Oct. 4, 2018—to lapse. On June 15, the conservative council majority voted against extending the declaration, citing sufficient sheltering options, including a then-in-the-works temporary facility that’s since been installed near the tarmac at the Chico Municipal Airport. The airport site has been criticized by local service providers, the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal judge as being not suitable as a shelter.

The county’s shelter crisis declaration makes more federal funding available in the battle against homelessness, and increases the amount of potential shelter by allowing vacant or underutilized public buildings to be used for that purpose and by relaxing some safety regulations. The county’s staff report presented at the meeting expounded on those advantages, noting the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care has received $4.9 million in Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funding as a result of the resolution.

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