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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Chico News and Review Editorial: Jesus Center Plan “Lacks Transparency”

A recent editorial at the Chico News and Review titled “Plan lacks transparency: We have more questions than answers about the Jesus Center’s efforts to centralize homeless services” criticizes the Jesus Center for it’s lack in transparency both in it’s planning and decision-making procedures surrounding the proposed moving of the Center away from the downtown and in revealing the cost of hiring homeless-consultant/hater Robert Marbut. The editorial asks

“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.

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Downtown help center should not be eliminated

The following letter appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on October 30, 2017:

Downtown help center should not be eliminated

Letter writer Greg Cootsona is understandably loyal to his wife, Jesus Center Director Laura Cootsona. But, the question is whether we, as citizens and donors, have sound reasons for supporting Laura Cootsona’s present agenda.

The Jesus Center brand was built on the “hospitality model.” This has meant that a person, in absolutely dire straits, can go to one place in Chico and get a meal and clothing, without judgment. Without being fixed or saved. In the hospitality model, restoration, modest though it may be, is embedded in every act of generosity. (Matt 25:35-36)

In contrast, there is another, paternalistic model, where people are seen as children to be “navigated.” The Jesus Center paid Robert Marbut thousands of dollars to help redirect its mission. In Marbut’s view, facilities in downtown areas, offering food and clothing, are simply enabling the poor. Marbut offers behavior modification camps instead. They segregate and hide the poor — a desirable outcome for many of America’s affluent citizens — but, they don’t get people into housing. (For an honorable alternative, Google: “Lloyd Pendleton housing first.”)

For years I’ve been getting to know Chico’s homeless, in the public space. Our centrally located, downtown facility — offering food and warm, dry clothing — saves lives. It reduces suffering. It should not be eliminated. (This is a complicated subject. Anyone interested in sharing more in-depth information, please contact us at [email protected]).

— Patrick Newman, Chico

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Jesus Center isn’t immune to scrutiny from public

The following letter appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on October 29, 2017:

Greg Cootsona’s exercised defense of his wife Laura, who directs the Jesus Center, against the criticisms of Patrick Newman, falls short. As husband Cootsona is understandably outraged; as advocate he fails to answer Newman’s points, which concern me too.

Half of Cootsona’s letter is an irrelevant demand to help instead of griping — a morally arrogant tactic to disarm instead of answer criticism, and wholly superfluous in Newman’s case. Nobody in Chico doubts that the Cootsonas are good people, but even sainthood gets no free pass.

Cootsona dismisses Robert Marbut as unimportant. Then why was he invited to Chico with such fanfare? A visit to his website put me off. I can’t believe that a multimillion-dollar building project, such as Laura Cootsona pursues near the fairgrounds, will not draw resources away from actually helping the poor. The Jesus Center has been a wonderful means to offer immediate aid to homeless people who understandably congregate downtown, as the rest of us do. Nor can I imagine, that any elaborate new “campus” can begin to solve the problems that cause homelessness. As a local institution we can only relieve the poor.

It ill-becomes me to quote scripture to a minister of the gospel. But Jesus never required the poor to improve themselves; he taught that they were already blessed. Instead he insisted that it was the comfortably-off who were in need of reform. Laura Cootsona says her neighbors on Park Avenue hate her. Did not his neighbors hate him too?

— Carl Peterson, Paradise

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Write a letter to support the Jesus Center

[Note: The letter below was later accepted for publication.]

Dear Chico and Butte County Citizens,

Having a centrally located, downtown Chico facility, where the most desperate people can get food and clothing, is beyond charitable. It’s a matter of life and death. People will suffer and die without the Jesus Center on Park Avenue.

The notion that a mentally and physically challenged street population can ride buses and zip over to MLK Parkway to get meals and warm, dry clothes is not realistic. We need more centers, not less. (My time in the downtown, meeting with the homeless, has done nothing but reinforce this perception.)

It’s obvious why the Park Avenue location is being targeted for closure: Many people want to remove the homeless from our highly visible public spaces. Short of real housing solutions (addressing the needs of those with severe mental illness, brain injuries, PTSD, addiction issues, etc.) — which are beyond reach in our bizarre political climate — homeless numbers will increase.

I’ve written two letters to the E-R ([email protected]) and one to the CN&R ([email protected]) . My last letter to the E-R was rejected (see below); seems I’m over my quota. I’m writing you to ask if you would be willing to write a letter in support of the downtown facility.

Letter ideas:

  • The Jesus Center on Park Avenue has reduced suffering for thousands of people, by supplying food and clean clothes.
  • Because the Jesus Center is centrally located, it is highly accessible to people with mental and physical limitations.
  • We need more points of contact for the homeless, not less.
  • Building a Robert Marbut-style compound near the Silver Dollar Speedway is not a solution to homelessness. It’s a way of hiding the poor.
  • The Jesus Center has spent thousands of dollars on the consulting services of Marbut, but we do not accept Marbut’s vision for the future of social services or housing.
  • Instead of dedicating city land to a Marbut-style compound, better to establish tiny house communities or other housing.

Please feel free to contact me if you want to explore this issue. It’s complicated. I met with Jesus Center Director Laura Cootsona twice and I’ve heard Marbut speak. There are many layers to this issue — political, cultural and economic.

Letter rejected by the E-R:

Dear Editor,

Letter writer Greg Cootsona is understandably loyal to his wife, Jesus Center Director Laura Cootsona. But, the question is whether we, as citizens and donors, have sound reasons for supporting Laura Cootsona’s present agenda.

The Jesus Center brand was built on the “hospitality model.” This has meant that a person, in absolutely dire straits, can go to one place in Chico and get a meal and clothing, without judgment. Without being fixed or saved. In the hospitality model, restoration, modest though it may be, is embedded in every act of generosity. (Matt 25:35-36)

In contrast, there is another, paternalistic model, where people are seen as children to be “navigated.” The Jesus Center paid Robert Marbut thousands of dollars to help redirect its mission. In Marbut’s view, facilities in downtown areas, offering food and clothing, are simply enabling the poor. Marbut offers behavior modification camps instead; they segregate and hide the poor— a desirable outcome for many of America’s affluent citizens — but, they don’t get people into housing. (For an honorable alternative, Google: “Lloyd Pendleton housing first”.)

For years I’ve been getting to know Chico’s homeless, in the public space. Our centrally located, downtown facility — offering food and warm, dry clothing — saves lives. It reduces suffering. It should not be eliminated. (This is a complicated subject. Anyone interested in sharing more in-depth information, please contact us at [email protected].)

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New Zealand’s Prime Minister: Homelessness proves capitalism is a “blatant failure”

In her first interview since the October 19th election, New Zealand’s 37-year-old Prime Minister-elect Jacinda Ardern states unequivocally that capitalism is a “blatant failure” when it comes to housing the poor. It’s refreshing and perhaps even hopeful to read that a world leader understands and courageously speaks publicly about the systemic roots of homelessness, a point reflected in item 12 of Chico Friends on the Street’s Core Beliefs.

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Two possible futures…

The first video is the perimeter of Robert Marbut’s Haven for Hope (Marbut is CEO), in Texas.  Little video is available on what’s inside–and what I’ve seen is not reassuring.  Not much different from a prison:

By contrast, the second video is about “housing first,” in Vancouver, BC:

The difference is the same old difference: humanism/liberty vs authoritarianism/coercion.  We get to decide (at least in theory) which direction America will go.

Marbut’s influence is being felt here in Chico; he’s a paid consultant.  The police are relocating the homeless with bus tickets “home.”  (Any oversight on this program or the results?  Or is getting them out of town good enough?) Restrooms are closed ten hours each day.  A fully funded (apparently overstaffed) CPD profiles and rousts the homeless, like never before.  The homeless report having their IDs and possessions seized.  Newly employed private security guards are all over town (the plaza, Safeway, Costco, etc.), misinforming and rousting the homeless–working with CPD. Ticketing and arrests continue.  On July 23, a homeless man was shot in the restroom of downtown business–the business was closed and the public was not at risk.  Was every effort made to wait-out the man in question, who was not in possession of a firearm?   IMHO, Chico is responding with all the earmarks of a proto-police state and the public sleeps.

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