You are currently viewing Chico commits some funds for homelessness, identifying temporary campground location – Chico Enterprise-Record

Chico commits some funds for homelessness, identifying temporary campground location – Chico Enterprise-Record


CHICO — After seven months of uncertainty handling years of increasing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chico staff and the City Council reached steps toward agreement Tuesday night.

City Manager Mark Orme presented a revised approach for the city’s Homeless Opportunities Plan, what he called the Quality of Life plan, to address not just homelessness but general impacts on living in the city. Within this strategy, staff proposed using nearly $2 million for addressing homelessness.

The biggest change Orme suggested was to make an emergency order to use a property west of the Chico Airport as a three-month emergency campground where homeless individuals could move to, if they cannot or will not enter Torres Shelter. The project would cost about $700,000, he said.

This part of his proposal met confusion and uncertainty from the council and most of the public present, although it was supported by Mayor Ann Schwab. Orme said he had expected pushback and added while staff do not have “full faith or confidence” in the plan, it was what they had been able to pull together for consideration based on many conversations about homelessness.

Due to the “failures” of multiple systems in place to help people, local government is now expected to handle these issues with limited resources, he added. The immediate concerns for staff continue to be to get 50 additional beds in the Torres Shelter and provide a temporary campground until Jan. 31.

He and Schwab agreed that “we have been struggling to find the perfect plan,” with little results from the county and state, currently “inundated with one disaster after another.”

“It’s not out there — this is going to be a work in progress,” Schwab said. She cited the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruling prohibiting prosecution of people sleeping in public, and the city must have accommodations for people to go if they are moved from a location like Bidwell Park — she was later told the Chico Police Department’s Target Team estimates 45 to 50 people camp in Bidwell Park.

The other councilors were skeptical of the location, or the idea of the campground itself, and the conversation largely focused on the balance between enforcement of city codes and feasible locations for people to shelter. Little time was spent on how the plan could connect more mental health resources to the unsheltered.

Notably, staff framed the plan on general quality of life in the city, and around what was called “pervasive” illegal activity and crime. Assistant City Manager Chris Constantin said the city must also focus on being able to strategically plan for emergencies and has not had the fiscal resources to do so or address general public safety.

Constantin clarified that if people are asked to leave Bidwell Park while camping, they will be cited for a camping ordinance violation if they refuse to go to either a temporary campground or a shelter.

“I don’t think the strategy is to enforce anti-camping citywide and force anyone anywhere, it’s to to give another place to go for camping opportunities.”

The online survey that recently asked for community input found that of over 1,000 comments, the ideas of keeping safe and clean parks and waterways, increasing shelter beds and enforcement of illegal activities in public areas were the top three priorities. Homeless Solutions Coordinator Suzi Kochems added many do not seem to believe the homeless population will cooperate with staff solutions.

The results also showed concern about where homeless individuals can go and a current lack of affordable housing. Kochems said in her experience any emergency shelter plan also needs an affordable housing component to transition people into permanent housing.

The location of the proposed emergency shelter was not liked by Councilors Scott Huber, Randall Stone or Vice Mayor Alex Brown. Transportation would be an issue as well as a campground that seems “inhospitable,” Huber said. Constantin retorted that the city lacks other locations and to allow anyone to continue to live outside at all could be considered inhospitable.

Councilor Sean Morgan was particularly vocal, calling the survey which had to be used to gather public input “unnecessary” and saying he could not support using $700,000 for a three-month project. He met dispute from Schwab, who asked “What else can we do?” and tried to ask him what dollar amount he would support using for such a campground. Morgan then asked staff to continue drafting strategies in the Quality of Life plan.


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