Not feeding the hungry? Is that even Christian?

The following letter appeared in the Oroville Mercury-Register on April 9, 2018:

After years of criminalizing homelessness in Chico, and the problem only growing worse, our mayor now wants to double-down by making it illegal to feed the hungry in public spaces. Modern Christian practice forced me to seek spiritual comfort elsewhere long ago, yet my values remain largely consistent with the teachings of Jesus, who himself shared much wisdom with so many other radical humanitarians representing all the great religions of the world.

If he remains in good standing while seeking always to pamper the powerful and punish the poor, then Chico Mayor Sean Morgan’s denomination must teach from a different book than my Bible school did. Money grubbing varieties of Protestantism that exalt pastors with luxury while impoverishing the flock are all too familiar, but the mayor looks too comfortable for that tradition. Which church lets you call yourself one of them from a prominent elected office, while so thoroughly opposing all of Jesus’ admonitions on social justice?

Adding to my theological confusion are those Chico Friends on the Street folks. Some of them are almost certainly heathens, but they’re acting suspiciously Christian, out there helping and hanging with our unsheltered neighbors every week in the plaza. I know for a fact a few of them refuse to consume any animal products and some might even think critters have rights of their own. If they’re taking the scriptural principle of mutual responsibility a little too far, does that make them atheists or saints?

— Dan Everhart

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Latest CN&R Coverage

The Chico News and Review covered Chico Friends on the Street’s presence at the April 3, 2018 meeting of the Chico City Council.

Between Melissa Holmberg’s challenge to Mayor Sean Morgan’s callous sentiments, Carol Eberling’s recollection of days gone by when the government supported impoverished citizens in need of housing assistance, and Professor Robert Jones’ unflinching criticism of a homeless demonization narrative popular in the community, the diversity of voices all spoke to the core beliefs of Chico Friends on the Street.

Read the article here. View the video of the above speakers—and more not mentioned in the article—here. For your viewing convenience, check out the timestamps for each speaker in our April 4 blog post.

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In her April 5 editorial, Chico News & Review editor Melissa Daugherty calls on Sean Morgan to account for cruel words he was quoted as saying in reference to homeless folks in Chico, as well as for the hostility he directed toward the cities of Redding and Oroville.

Kudos to the CN&R for holding our elected officials accountable. Read the editorial here.

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Letters to the Editor 4/5/18

The following letters appeared in the Chico News and Review on April 5, 2018:

Re “Compassion above all else”

I am writing to thank you for your well-balanced editorial regarding the activities of Chico Friends on the Street (CFOTS) and Chico First.

Several weeks ago, Chico First set up a booth in the plaza on Sunday while CFOTS passed out food. I was at the plaza with CFOTS, introduced myself to Rob Berry, and invited him and the others to come see for themselves what we were doing. Unfortunately, no one took me up on it; it all felt rather silly, as if we were rival gangs rather than concerned citizens in a public space.

My experience has been that CFOTS leaves the plaza cleaner then when they arrived. The claim that an occasional shared meal is keeping people on the streets is specious as well. There are currently around 1,100 homeless humans in Chico. There aren’t enough shelter beds or housing available for all of them. What is keeping them on the streets is not a PB&J sandwich.

I live in Chico and want it to be clean and safe, but I also seek respectful solutions rather than criminalization for those who are living on the streets. I will continue to seek common ground with any group working toward those goals.

— Angela McLaughlin

Editor’s note: For more on this, see Second & Flume, page 5.

 

Re “Under pressure”

I appreciate your coverage and recent editorials concerning the activities and divergent philosophies of Chico Friends on the Street and Chico First.

Over two years ago, Chico Friends on the Street began a protest in response to the further criminalization of homelessness, implemented through the Offenses Against Public Property Ordinance.

Our protest takes place in Chico City Plaza, where we meet and share food and clothing. This has raised the hackles of landlords and members of Chico First. At the council meeting on March 20, we were pilloried for our activities and the council was asked to prohibit us from sharing food.

I found the testimony to be wildly exaggerated. (Especially with respect to managing litter—which we have consistently controlled.) We were also accused of engaging in “political theater.”

There is theater in protest: We are in a visible public space, affirming the rights of all people to coexist. I agree with Mayor Sean Morgan when he says we are “empowering” the homeless—at least I hope this is true. The homeless have at least some power when present among us, especially as the alternative to exclusion through deprivation, criminalization and “consolidation”—the interdependent devices now promoted by our local authoritarians.

— Patrick Newman

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CFOTS speaks at the Chico City Council

On the April 3, 2018 meeting of the Chico City Council, supporters of the homeless community in Chico delivered remarks to advocate for resources for homeless citizens, and challenge the ongoing narrative demonizing the homeless and misconstruing the actions and intents of Chico Friends on the Street. (Comments begin at the 53:36 mark.)

Among the highlights of the nine addresses are the young women from Chico Country Day School recommending the provision of menstrual products in public bathrooms for homeless women, and the revelatory and courageous presentation by Melissa Holmberg exposing Mayor Sean Morgan’s derision for the poor and his contempt for the city of Oroville—neighbor to Chico, and the county seat of Butte County.

Watch the video of the Council proceedings here.

1. Dan Everhart — 53:36
2. Students from Chico Country Day School — 57:00
3. Linda Furr — 1:00:10
4. Carol Eberling — 1:03:45
5. Angela McLaughlin — 1:07:05
6. Robert Jones — 1:09:55
7. Melissa Holmberg — 1:12:39
8. Annie Chen — 1:15:25
9. Hilary Locke — 1:18:25

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Chico News and Review Editorial: Compassion above all else

Amidst a flurry of news coverage of Chico Friends on the Street and the mounting opposition to its actions by local groups and city officials, the latest Chico News and Review editorial, “Compassion above all else: Efforts to further criminalize homelessness solve nothing and make people more miserable,” contextualizes homelessness in Chico and takes a stance against criminalization of homeless folks.

The editorial notes the systemic causes of poverty and invites cleanup groups like Chico First to recognize and support proven solutions, rather than ineffective, punitive non-solutions:

We get Chico First’s frustrations with the side effects, including panhandling and litter. We understand wanting to keep the environment “clean and safe.” But we also know that demonizing this already marginalized population isn’t the answer. Nor is making their lives more difficult by codifying laws targeting them, such as the proposal to outlaw food giveaways in the city center.

Indeed, Chico First members would be wise to expend their time and energy on efforts that are proven to mitigate homelessness. At the top of that list, based on a growing body of research, is housing first. That’s the model in which people are immediately placed into stable living environments—it’s at that point they are more likely to successfully address the underlying issues that led to life on the streets.

Read the editorial here.

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Shame and disappointment

The following letters appeared in the Chico News and Review on March 29, 2018, in response to CN&R editor Melissa Daugherty’s criticism of Mayor Sean Morgan’s public mockery of local homeless advocacy groups’ actions.

Shame and disappointment

I have been trying to find the words to describe my shame and disappointment in our illustrious mayor, after viewing the same TV news interview you mention in your column. You mimicked my sentiments eloquently while defining Sean Morgan’s narrow and naive comments regarding his community and constituents.

I would like to believe he represents the few and not the majority; however, he is in a position to represent and his lack of professionalism is an insult to the citizens of Chico. I am more embarrassed for him than I am disheartened he is an elected official in a community that upholds higher education. Sean Morgan does not represent me.

As a social worker, I work with many of these “transients,” advocating for their human rights. While working alongside public defender Saul Henson, we have made numerous attempts to prevent the disenfranchised from being oppressed further. I also work at the Psychiatric Hospital Facility (PHF) where I support treatment for many who struggle with mental illness.

These are people who have families—brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. They are humans who have needs. More criminalization will only lead to funding being misdirected while the homeless—including veterans and mentally ill individuals—go further into the shadows.

— Valerie Sanz

 

Chico First members and some individuals from the Jesus Center have turned the word compassion into a dirty word, and I resent it deeply.

They say it isn’t compassionate to share food with the hungry, except at designated pit stops, and, of course, the hungry must behave a certain way or “Oh well, maybe if you miss a few meals, you’d be rehabilitated.”

Hopefully, they don’t treat their children this way. They say it isn’t compassionate to hand out sleeping bags or blankets when it is cold and raining—and the list goes on.

These self-righteous, profit-oriented Chico inhabitants should at least be honest enough to acknowledge that they don’t care about the poor. They just want the homeless to disappear from “polite” society, and compassion has nothing to do with it.

— Sandra O’Neill

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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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