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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Jesus Center’s board has conflicting interests

The following letter appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on January 8, 2018:

Jesus Center’s board has conflicting interests

A letter writer claims I’ve “displayed contempt for the Jesus Center.” Well, I do have concerns.

When former Jesus Center Director Bill Such was fired two years ago, our community should have been outraged. Instead, there was indifference. To all appearances, a good man was ousted by a business-heavy board of directors (six realtors, a police officer and a wealthy farmer) for not playing ball with various commercial interests, those determined to drive the homeless from the downtown.

Under new management, we see a strong alliance between the Jesus Center and the most powerful, propertied people in Chico; when the Jesus Center should be an unequivocal voice of homeless advocacy — and not beholden to the Downtown Chico Business Association. The plan to remove our only downtown soup kitchen, the source of food and clothing for hundreds of people, is not in accord with the basic needs of people living in our public space.

Jesus was a strange man. He instructed his followers to do strange things, like feed and clothe poor people, without condition. He didn’t ask for Social Security numbers or talk about “data-driven” approaches or intake facilities, as is now happening at the Jesus Center.

Maybe it’s time for a name change. The “Dr. Robert G. Marbut Center” has a nice ring to it.

— Patrick Newman, Chico

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Justice 4 Desmond Birthday Vigil

Join Chico Friends on the Street in supporting Justice 4 Desmond for a Justice 4 Desmond Birthday Vigil, a celebration of Desmond Phillips’ birthday, including a candlelit vigil in his memory and in support of his family’s ongoing efforts to seek justice.

Monday, January 01, 2018
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Chico City Plaza

Chico Friends on the Street will be bringing food and hopefully many from the streets will join in. Desmond Phillips was interested in supporting people on the streets, and his father David has been doing this in his honor each Sunday in the plaza. Justice 4 Desmond wants to honor the homeless and remember Tyler Rushing, too. Hope to see you there!

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Bussed Out: How America Moves its Homeless

An 18-month investigation by The Guardian reveals that for many cities struggling with homelessness, the preferred solution involves a one-way ticket out of town, part of what the authors refer to as “America’s homeless relocation program.”

The investigation finds that while schemes like San Francisco’s “Homeward Bound” program are helping some, they also “serve the interests of cities, which view free bus tickets as a cheap and effective way of cutting their homeless populations.”

According to the piece, “[p]eople are routinely sent thousands of miles away after only a cursory check by authorities to establish they have a suitable place to stay once they get there. Some said they feel pressured into taking tickets, and others described ending up on the streets within weeks of their arrival.”

In case you don’t know, a similar program exists here in Chico, going by the name of H.E.L.P. (Homeless Evaluation Liason Program). One Florida homeless advocate sees programs like these as nothing more than a “smoke-and-mirrors ruse tantamount to shifting around the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than reducing homelessness. Once they get you out of their city, they really don’t care what happens to you.”

You can read the entire article here, and watch Democracy Now!’s coverage of the piece here.

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U.N. Investigator on Extreme Poverty Issues a Grim Report

NPR’s Goats and Soda reports that Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has just released his preliminary findings on poverty in the U.S. According to Alston, “[p]eople in the U.S. seem particularly unable to stomach the sight of homeless, yet are unwilling to enact policies to help them.” Addressing the notion of America as a meritocracy (a myth taken as gospel by the Fox News set), Alston reminds us that “[t]he reality is that the United States now has probably the lowest degree of social mobility among all the rich countries. And if you are born poor, guess where you’re going to end up—poor.” Echoing one of the core beliefs of Chico Friends on the Street—namely, that poverty and homelessness are primarily systemic, structural, and institutional—Alston makes clear that “in a rich country like the USA, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power.” Something tells me that the Chico City Council will pass on reading Alston’s report.

Read the article here.

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Was city influenced by homeless consultant?

The following letter appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on December 10, 2017:

Was city influenced by homeless consultant?

At a recent panel discussion on homelessness, Jesus Center Director Laura Cootsona was asked about the cost and fate of the Robert Marbut “deep dive” study, which was commissioned by the Jesus Center last spring. Cootsona declined to reveal the cost and indicated the study was kept in-house and would not be made public. When pressed on whether the report was shared with Chico city government, Cootsona indicated it was not.

Since Marbut is a controversial consultant, who recommends that municipalities build one central compound and contain the homeless — by means of deprivation (ending citywide food and clothing distribution, etc.) and criminalization (a choice between county jail and a compound) — it’s important to know if his report was in fact held in strict confidence at the Jesus Center.

Since influential Jesus Center board member Mayo Ryan brought Marbut to Chico, is it reasonable to think he would not have shared Marbut’s recommendations with City Manager Mark Orme? If he did share these recommendations, is it reasonable to think it happened without Cootsona’s knowledge?

It’s an interesting coincidence that Marbut was here last spring and a few months later Orme presented the Jesus Center with city property for a compound. What gives?

— Patrick Newman, Chico

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