Charity with justice
Re: Editor’s Note: “Commitment” (By Jason Cassidy, April 6, 2023)
Editor Jason Cassidy lauds the Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT) program and quotes founder Bob Trausch: “If you see a problem, you don’t talk about it, you look for a solution. Arguing about which side is wrong, that doesn’t get you anywhere.” Cassidy sees CHAT’s success as achieved through “staying out of the political fray.”
It’s one thing to stay out of the fray and acknowledge you’re practicing pure charity—charity with no call for justice. And maybe it’s okay to bask in the glory of sacred cow status, praised even by those most antagonistic to homeless human rights (i.e., Chico City Councilman Sean Morgan). But preaching that arguing about right and wrong “doesn’t get you any anywhere” is problematic.
I don’t fault CHAT for skimming the “easiest” of the homeless population off the streets; CHAT doesn’t have the resources to meet the needs of the many left behind, or to end a housing crisis. But I do question those who remain 100 percent aloof while human rights violations abound—criminalization laws, camp sweeps, coercive containment, closure of our soup kitchen, the barricading of restrooms and drinking water—and then insinuate the small fraction who oppose these violations are nowhere. Here, the voice of charity abets a culture of tyranny.
Life is often about choices, except if you’re one of the tens of thousands of Butte County residents whose house burned down in a wildfire; except if you were one of the 500,000 disabled or elderly Americans who weren’t awarded benefits while 1,500 Social Security field offices were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic; except if your business got wiped out by the pandemic-induced economic downturn; except if you had a medical emergency that wiped out your savings and income.
In his new book, Poverty, by America, Pulitzer Prize-winning Princeton professor Matthew Desmond studies factors that contribute to economic inequality in the U.S., including housing segregation, predatory lending, the decline of unions and tax policies that favor the wealthy.
“Most government aid goes to families that need it the least,” Desmond says. “If you add up the amount that the government is dedicating to tax breaks—mortgage interest deduction, wealth transfer tax breaks, tax breaks we get on our retirement accounts, our health insurance, our college savings accounts—you learn that we are doing much more to subsidize affluence than to alleviate poverty. If you look at the amount of money we spent on homeowner tax subsidies, like the mortgage interest deduction, that’s around $190 billion a year. Well, how much have we dedicated to housing assistance for low-income families? About $50 billion a year. It’s a colossal difference.”
Road less travelable
One of the best, easily accessible to everyone trails in Bidwell Park was Upper Park Road. The City of Chico destroyed it for hiking to provide a better roadway for gas-powered vehicles. What was an accessible road/path for everyone has been covered in 4 to 6 inches of volcanic railroad ballast. It is a nightmare to walk on. Besides the looseness of the material, the crunching sound of steps or bike tires drowns out the sounds of nature that were so nice to hear.
The roadway had problems—because of the failure of Public Works to maintain it and the City to invest in it—but only in a few areas, not the entire 3.4 miles of road. In addition, this erosion control project built swales into the roadway requiring hikers on foot to walk through or jump over running water in the swale when it is rainy.
Upper Park Road is no longer accessible to casual hikers, strollers (try pushing one through that stuff), wheelchairs (a failure to follow ADA requirements?), narrow-tire bicycles, or horses (the ballast has very sharp edges and are not small stones).
You can thank the City of Chico for creating this mess.
To better healthcare
I attended the March 28 Democratic Action Club of Chico meeting about single-payer health care. There was an amazing panel of local health care providers—including Dr. Kenneth Logan, Dr. David Potter, and nurse practitioner Paul O’Rourke-Babb—who gave great insight into the problems with our current health care system. These include the fact that insurance companies profit by limiting access and denying care, and pharmaceutical companies are allowed to charge exorbitant prices unchecked.
California’s uninsured rate is 8.3 percent. The numbers of under-insured are more difficult to quantify but many are impacted by high co-pays and deductibles. According to Dr. Logan who runs the Shalom Free Clinic in Chico, the majority of people who access services at this clinic have insurance and yet cannot afford care. The California Health Foundation reports that more than half of Californians skip or postpone seeking health care due to cost, potentially worsening their condition.
Health care decisions should be made by providers and patients and not by insurance company executives. People should have access to their medications without having to forgo paying for other necessities. A single-payer plan such as Medicare for All or CalCare would guarantee equal access, eliminate disparities and decrease the waste inherent in the current system.
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