Solidarity with homeless in Chico a necessary step

The following letter appeared in the Chico Enterprise-Record on April 15, 2018:

Letter writer Rob Berry quotes my comments from the floor of the City Council in an effort to further his campaign against the homeless — and against those who stand in solidarity with them. However, Berry fails to cite the central message of my remarks, intended to highlight the ugly and hateful statements of Berry’s group.

At the March 20 council meeting, members of Chico First systematically and maliciously disparaged, demonized and dehumanized Chico’s homeless, referring to them as “vagrants,” a “criminal element,” a “problematic lot” and a “poison” to the community. The group even compared homeless people to wild animals and aliens from “Star Wars.” That exhibition was disgraceful.

The honorable solution to homelessness is housing and social services. Short of that, the next best thing concerned citizens can do is affirm the homeless by standing in solidarity in the public space (the only space they have) and to protest laws criminalizing poverty. Hiding the homeless in “navigation centers” or jails is a form of erasure and disempowerment — acts that carry the scent of authoritarianism, which should be of grave concern to those who cherish the Bill of Rights.

Lastly, I would like to note how overjoyed I was to read Berry’s description of my actions as nothing more than a “Power to the People” campaign. “All Power to the People” was the slogan of the Black Panther party. A greater compliment I cannot imagine. I can only hope my actions would have made Huey Newton and Bobby Seale proud.

— Robert C. Jones

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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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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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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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E-R LTE / Harm Reduction

This letter refers to the article located at http://www.chicoer.com/social-affairs/20170811/harm-reduction-center-gathers-community-input 

The far-right E-R continues to hype Michael Madieros and that’s no surprise. 

One man’s opinion: 


Dear Editor, 

As Lloyd Pendleton so eloquently argued, you cannot solve the problem of homelessness without providing homes.  Pendleton’s “housing first” model prescribes individual housing units for the chronically homeless, because this works best.  Once housed, people can be assisted in managing disabilities. 

All of the above requires a federal solution and it’s certainly affordable: with 5% of one year’s military budget, we could build housing for every chronically homeless person in America. 

As much as we might like to think the Stairways “harm reduction” micro-program is some kind of answer, it isn’t.  Stairways Director Michael Madieros has a history of supporting criminalization laws, which ensnare the homeless in the criminal justice system. Madieros and his allies are drawing on right-wing methodology: spend next to nothing, except on police and criminalization, and claim we are on the high road. 

The possible harm in an over-exuberant description of harm reduction, is that it leads your readers to imagine wonderful things are being done for the poorest, disabled people. That is, in the absence of adequately funded, real solutions.  Consequently, your readers might just continue to make the mistake of voting for social program slashing, trickle-down politicians, thereby abetting failure. 

Ironically, those who complain loudest (commercial landlords) about the presence of the visible poor, are those who most vigorously support failing policies. The wealthiest among us get exponentially wealthier, while insisting on disowning failure. Voters should stop enabling them. 

Patrick Newman 

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Plaza, etc.

In Sunday’s E-R, Laura Urseny once again delivers a lengthy, one-sided version of the Teri DuBose, take-back-the-plaza lunches: http://www.chicoer.com/business/20170722/biz-bits-chico-businesswoman-getting-pushback-from-lunch-dates

My LTE response is copied below. Sadly, not enough people care about the public space and the implications of the legal and cultural battle going on there. This applies to criminalization of sleeping, restroom access, etc., as well. Chico citizens, across the political spectrum, fail to grasp the significance of these seemingly small issues–and this will haunt us in the future. Not to mention the painful, day-to-day alienation of people living in our public spaces.

Friends on the Street will be in the plaza every Sunday at 12:00 and we will try to be present for as many of the Wednesday and Friday “take-back” lunches as possible.

(There are also the ongoing issues of how to get restrooms open, criminalization reversed and exposing the presence/influence of homeless hater Robert Marbut–on retainer, at unknown cost, by the Jesus Center).


Dear Editor,

For a year-and-a-half, with the help of donors, Chico Friends on the Street has gone to the plaza, on a weekly basis, to distribute food and clothing.  More importantly, we’ve befriended those who live in the public space.

(Having done this “experiment,” it’s possible we may actually know something about homelessness in the plaza.  Might Laura Urseny join us for a few months, before writing another hit piece on “transients?”  Please contact us at [email protected]com )

Contrary to the picture painted–as Urseny describes the experiences of Teri DuBose–I’ve never been verbally abused, nor have any of the dozens of people I’ve worked with. The abuse I’ve witnessed has come from passing motorists, screaming at people struggling to survive. 99% of the time, people living on the streets respond to respect with respectfulness. And, when they don’t, it doesn’t take a genius to see they are wrestling with demons I’ve met only in nightmares.

If DuBose is genuinely interested in inclusion, she might reach-out to the homeless and make them feel more respected and more welcome. It’s not that difficult. They can tell whether they’re being embraced or judged. Lastly, Chief O’Brien is a public servant.  He is, in theory, sworn to protect and serve ALL citizens–not to fan the flames of demonization and hysteria.  I have to question how well O’Brien knows anyone DuBose finds “threatening.” Let’s meet in the plaza and talk with the “offenders.”  We might learn a lot.

Lastly, Chief O’Brien is a public servant.  He is, in theory, sworn to protect and serve ALL citizens–not to fan the flames of demonization and hysteria.  I have to question how well O’Brien knows anyone DuBose finds “threatening.” Let’s meet in the plaza and talk with the “offenders.”  We might learn a lot.

Patrick Newman

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Madieros is back…

I’m sad to see Michael Madieros (faux-homeless advocate) back in the news, after a more than year long hiatus. Because:  1) Madieros loudly supports criminalization as a “tool” for reaching the homeless. In fact, Madieros has been a tool of the Chico Police Department for years.  2) He fails to support realistic/humane proposals for downtown restroom access.  3) I’ve heard report after report of substandard conditions at Stairways (the housing program run by Madieros)–along with substandard/abusive management.  (This is well known to the social workers of Chico.)

Madieros was mentored by mega-landlord Wayne Cook and Joe Montes–both right wingers.   Cook led the charge on kicking the Orchard Church off the plaza.  Montes is another believer in the authoritarian/fascist idea that we can fix poverty and dysfunction with tweaks by the criminal justice system.  Insane.

In his latest incarnation, Madieros has teamed-up with attorney Ron Reed to offer legal services to the homeless–three hours a week.  Sounds good, but I don’t trust these people at all.  Reed has gone to bat for Madieros on criminalization, in the past. If the long arm of the law can help, why not?  It’s a way of making the “velvet gavel,” “nudge from the judge” and all that bullshit seem credible and Christian (Reed again).  Madieros is on record, ad nauseum, as supporting this approach to “reforming” people. It’s a shitty, cheap, trickle-down, neo-liberal substitute for housing and decent social services.  All popular with the morally bankrupt masses.  Hence, Madieros is the kind of advocate the public wants to hear–someone who rubber stamps current policy.  He has a lot of traction in the local media.

Two letters referencing this new development:


Sent to the CN&R today:

“A lot of homeless people have warrants because they didn’t go to court for whatever reason…” says attorney Ron Reed.  True, but without laws criminalizing sleeping, leaving carts/bags unattended, etc., there would be no warrants.  (Also, our city is locking restrooms 10 hours each day, while arrests are made for urination and defecation.)

So, where are Reed and his partner Michael Madieros on the subject of criminalization?   Madieros is a strong supporter of criminalization.  And, when I took Madieros to task, in the pages of this paper, Reed called my objections “cow flop” and offered what appeared as a mealy-mouthed endorsement of criminalization–complete with references to God Almighty.

Those pushing the medieval notion that criminalization is useful in assisting people with brain injuries (40% of men on the streets), the mentally ill, addicts, people with PTSD, the financially broken, etc., cannot be credible advocates.  To suggests they are, is like saying arsonists make credible firefighters.

Reed aside, where is the legal community?  I recall no lawyer, other than Jennifer Haffner, as having the courage to confront the city on the dehumanizing and unconstitutional Offenses Against Public Property Ordinance.  This acquiescence should be cause for shame in every law office.


In today’s E-R:

It seems that good is barely out of bed while evil has already made three trips around the world.

Your recent coverage of the possible Peet’s coffee shop closure leaves readers with the impression that “vagrants” are to blame.  I’m in Peet’s many times every week and I’ve talked with staff about “vagrant” impacts for years.  I’ve also observed, first hand, how much impact the poor/disabled/homeless have on the business. It’s minimal, but the apparently very well heeled landlord, who owns much of downtown Chico, is bound by some commercial code to demonize the homeless at every opportunity.

Then we have an E-R editorial asking the city get some restrooms open.  Great idea, because the homeless are now locked-out for ten hours each day.  But, why does the E-R care?  Is it because so many people, living brutal lives, are further punished, humiliated, degraded and criminalized by having no place to legally urinate and defecate?  No. Instead, it’s the inconvenience Bank of America or Morgan Stanley might experience when some poor soul takes a dump on their stoop.

Lastly, we have news that Michael Madieros and Ron Reed are opening a legal clinic for the homeless–with lawyers available three hours a week.  But, Madieros is a vocal proponent of criminalization, the very engine of legal entanglement and misery for the homeless. Something doesn’t add-up.

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