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.
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!
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.
NPR’sGoats 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.
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?
“How much was Marbut paid by the Jesus Center? We don’t know, because [Jesus Center executive Director Laura] Cootsona refuses to tell the CN&R. We do know that he was paid more than $100,000 for his work in Sarasota County, Fla., where, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the region ‘ended up with very little direct benefit.’ We should note that this isn’t the only instance in which the Jesus Center has been secretive about its budget. This newspaper’s attempts to simply report on the success of its annual Run for Food event has been met with a refusal to share that information as well.”
The editorial concludes that “[b]efore the city agrees to a lease of the taxpayer-owned property, there needs to be a much more thorough vetting of this potential project.” Kudos to the CNR for shining a light on one of many suspect aspects of this proposed Jesus Center move.
After receiving 72-hour eviction notices, some residents of an encampment on BART property were upbeat Wednesday after a judge ordered the city of Berkeley to submit a practical plan for sheltering its homeless population during the coming winter. (read more)