CN&R: What Chico Friends on the Street does

The Chico News and Review covered Chico Friends on the Street’s weekly protest and food distribution to homeless citizens last Sunday, and captured a sense of what CFOTS stands for.

Newman has a blunt response to any ordinance banning public feeding: “It’s unconstitutional.” Homeless people have a right to use public spaces to meet their survival needs, especially when nothing else does, he says.

He is among those who see homelessness as a symptom of the social dislocation that has resulted in large measure from the inequality in wealth in America that was exacerbated by the Great Recession. With housing costs at historic highs, even people with good jobs have trouble paying for shelter.

Newman and many others believe the necessary first step toward ending homelessness is the obvious one: find or build housing for the homeless. Once they have roofs over their heads, they can deal with the personal problems—alcoholism, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, debilitating poverty—that put them on the streets in the first place.

Where “housing first” has been implemented—Utah, for example—it has been successful.

Many cities, however, are going the route the Chico City Council has taken: criminalizing the behavior of the homeless in order to force them out of downtown and, even better, out of town.

Though it wasn’t mentioned, we’d like to note that Chico Friends on the Street formed in early 2016 in response to the passage of the Offenses Against Public Property ordinance in September/October 2015. One of the founding principles of the organization is to protest and resist unjust criminalization of the poor and homeless. (See Homeless Watershed Dates here).

Read the CN&R article in its entirety here.

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Chico News and Review Slams Mayor’s Attack on Homeless Advocacy Group

Chico News and Review editor Melissa Daugherty today rebuked Chico City Mayor Sean Morgan’s performance in a recent Action News piece in which he mocks local homeless advocates (like Chico Friends on the Street) for providing sustenance to poor and displaced Chicoans (a spectacle that included a revealing and bizarre tirade against public feedings). Admonishing the Mayor’s views as “the very worst type of provincialism,” the editorial chronicles a number of the many “lowlights” of Morgan’s tenure on the City Council, including his role in pushing through anti-poor ordinances like criminalizing lying down in public while legalizing the confiscation of whatever meager belongings the poor might carry. Kudos to Melissa Daugherty for speaking truth to power in calling out the Mayor for his regressive politics, disenfranchisement of the poor, and callousness toward the plight of the city’s poorest. Fortunately for Morgan, the City Council has yet to pass an ordinance criminalizing public displays of idiocy. Read the editorial in its entirety here.

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San Diego group challenges city on unconstitutional ban against public feeding

In October of 2017, the city of El Cajon, California enacted an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of food on city-owned property. City officials claimed the ban was meant to protect citizens, including homeless folks, from contracting Hepatitis A.

It’s one thing to target a disease outbreak, and another to systematically criminalize and deprive homeless people under the thinly veiled facade of concern over public health.

In January of 2018, police arrested and issued misdemeanor citations to about a dozen members of the homeless advocacy group, Break the Ban, which distributed breakfast bars, fruit, and socks, to homeless citizens.

After the homeless advocacy group promised legal action against the city on constitutional grounds, the city of El Cajon lifted the ban, and dropped all charges against the dozen protesters.

Chico Friends on the Street stands with Break the Ban and other anti-authoritarian groups who join in solidarity with the poor in the struggle for freedom, justice, and democracy.

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Clearing the air: misinformation in local news coverage

On March 6, Action News characterized Chico Friends on the Street (CFOTS) as a “guerilla” feeding group, claiming that our actions directly contribute to the litter problem in Chico. Inaccuracies in the report include pairing footage of a littered Lindo Channel with voiceover from the Plaza decrying the fact that “garbage is everywhere, it is left everywhere!” The fact of the matter is that CFOTS is diligent about picking up any and all trash generated from our activities as well as other litter in the Plaza. Watch the news report here: Guerilla Feeding

In response to the report, CFOTS requested that Action News provide a more accurate and balanced view of the situation. On March 11, Action News returned to the Plaza, this time to observe CFOTS at work, interviewing CFOTS founder Patrick Newman: Chico Group Helps Hungry Residents in Need

In response, Mayor Sean Morgan indicated publicly that in providing food and supplies to desperate citizens, CFOTS is “making the problem worse” and that “city leaders are prepared to take action.” Unfortunately, that action has nothing to do with alleviating poverty and everything to do with making the poor invisible. View the article here: Chico Mayor: City is Considering Options on Homeless Public Feedings

Chico Friends on the Street maintains that homeless folks have a right to use our public spaces and that attempts to demonize, criminalize, contain, and deprive poor people of basic needs and their constitutional rights is corrosive to our democracy and harmful to all. Read more about our Core Beliefs.

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You can’t have conversations without the other side

The following piece appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on March 8, 2018, as part of the column, North State Voices.

You can’t have conversations without the other side

You’d never have guessed he’d been released from San Quentin earlier in the day. Pretty average looking, maybe early to mid 30s, polite and friendly, though clearly stressed.

This was winter of 2016, and I was doing intake at Safe Space Winter Shelter in Chico. He hadn’t been at the shelter before, so I signed him in and did his paperwork.

His story emerged as we filled out the intake forms. He’d been released that morning. Drug offense, didn’t say much else, didn’t justify or deny. He’d been cut loose with enough money for a bus ticket to Chico, and was expected to report to his parole officer on Monday.

He wasn’t originally from Chico but had been living here with his wife at the time of his arrest. They’d divorced while he was in prison and she’d long ago moved, so he no longer had any connection to the area. Some vagary of the justice system dictated he return.

His paperwork was loose, not in a binder or even a trash bag. Everything he was required to take to his parole officer on Monday was literally in a 3- to 4-inch stack of loose paperwork that he struggled to keep together. He had nothing else except the clothes on his back and a few bucks leftover after bus fare.

Mind you, he’d been released on a Friday, so here he was, washed up in a town where he had no connections, in the middle of winter, without so much as a coat or even a bag to carry the papers.

I was outraged. I remain outraged. We found a backpack for him and the shelter scared up a coat, and he was gone by my next shift. I don’t know what happened to him, but I’ve wondered about him many times.

Whatever you think about crime and criminals, how we prosecute nonviolent crimes and drug offenses, the ethics of a for-profit prison system, rehabilitation vs. punishment (and lord knows there’s a lot to unpack and discuss there), surely we can all agree this particular outcome is a recipe for disaster.

There is much to say about all of that, but I’ll leave it there, because I’m headed toward something else.

I’d never have known any of this, would never have bumped up against this possibility, if I hadn’t been involved with Safe Space.

I’m not going to harangue you further about getting involved, but the story serves to illustrate a broader point. I’m as stereotypically white, middle aged and middle class as can be. Nowhere in my usual well-trodden path would I have encountered this man, and even if I had it’s unlikely I’d have spent time with him or heard his story.

It’s valuable to engage with the “other,” especially for those of us who hold power, and there is much to be gained by brushing up against people in situations so different from our own — for them and perhaps even more so for us. These types of encounters temper our judgments, enlighten us, and broaden our perspectives. They’re an opportunity to recognize and reflect on our shared humanity. They are just plain good for our souls.

These opportunities to meet each other (with all the friction that sometimes entails) get lost in the push to force the undesirables out of downtown and away from stores, to make them less visible or drive them out of Chico all together. We may well succeed in getting them out of sight, but doing so won’t resolve the essential issues, only diminish the breadth of our perspective on them.

Like most of you, I want to see my country, state and community live up to our shared ideals. There is so much we can’t control, but we can do better locally. It starts with having these conversations, and that can only happen if we literally see each other, and if we engage.

Our conversations need to include, rather than just be about, those who are less fortunate. They need to include those who are struggling with addiction, who are dirty and unkempt, who were just released from prison, who made dumb mistakes. If we don’t find a way to incorporate their perspectives, we will not only all be more impoverished for it, but real, lasting solutions will continue to elude us.

— Angela McLaughlin

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