Anti-Homeless Movement in Northern California

By Bill Mash

I was full of hope, and yes change, when I started Without a Roof 18 months ago. I was certain the vital and worthy cause of homelessness and poverty in America articulated with admirable words, gritty pictures and moving images and sound would make quick and profound impacts in ending homelessness. People would quickly get involved, donate time, money, etc…

The reality on the street is bleak. Terms such as ‘Clean and Safe’, ‘Civil Sidewalks’, ‘business improvement districts’, and the most cruel of all, ‘homeless by choice’, supplanted compassion and understanding. ‘House Keys not Handcuffs’, ‘Criminalization of the Homeless’, ‘Right to Exist’, and ‘Community is Everyone’ became rally cries to educate a public programmed to fear the ever growing numbers of houseless in their communities.

My idealistic views of dramatic hope have been washed away by the growing chasm of hateful misinformation between those with roofs and those without.

Let’s step back for a moment to a kinder, gentler period in American history, the housing crisis of the early 1980’s which left hundreds of thousands of Americans houseless. American communities understood it was a public health crisis.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was the first responder to homelessness. HUD programs were expanded to address the need. The crisis was successfully managed, the economy recovered and people’s lives were transformed. The country rallied, citizens cared. Compassion and hope were triumphant.

Today it’s an entirely different perspective on the plight of the poor. The country that has been at war or conflict for all but two-plus decades of its existence has decided to wage a new war: The war on the poor.

In Redding California parks and wooded areas are being leveled under the guise of a favorite word of the oppressors of the poor - cleanup. Sleeping bags and cold weather gear are being withheld from those without a safe and warm place to rest their head. Perhaps if they’re cold enough they just might leave town - is this the logic?

In Humboldt County people are being beaten in the streets and told to leave town by vigilantes. The victims are silent as to who the perpetrators are, fearing for their lives. Several beloved and beautiful members of the community have recently died, their lives drastically shortened by the rigors and travesty that is life on the streets.

Chico California has come out in full force with all the weapons of misinformation, clean and safe, downtown ambassadors, business improvement districts with a new wrinkle - service engagement.

According to the Source Draft Agenda for 10/22, Chico Study Session; “If a person refuses service engagement, then a warrant is issued; noncompliance results in arrest. Can defer warrant if they leave the community.”

I suppose residents are to be comforted by the Clean and Safe report dated 10/22 that ‘recognizes the fine line between vagrancy as a social issue and a criminal issue.’ Perhaps the authors of this document don’t know, or perhaps care, that vagrancy laws were outlawed
decades ago with the term ‘vagrant’ being a derogatory and bigoted term to those that were abused?

It continues, “While being homeless is not a crime, many kinds of public conduct are illegal and should be addressed. These include being publicly intoxicated, loitering, prowling, fighting, trespassing, aggressive panhandling, soliciting, urinating and defecating in public places, unlawful camping, littering, obstructing sidewalks, riding bicycles and skateboards on public walkways, living in a vehicle parked on a public street, disturbing the peace by loud and unreasonable noises, using offensive words, behaving in a threatening manner, public exposure to unlicensed, unvaccinated, and or unleashed dogs, etc.”

This evil paragraph is wordsmithed to send the unsubtle message of what those ‘vagrants’ are really up to. It also puts a stamp on the reality that there is no such thing as a ‘fine line’. If you’re homeless, you’re engaged in criminal activity and are to be dealt with by the
full force of the law. Rumor has it that walking and chewing gum is under advisement.

It’s time to stand together as regional communities and turn back the tide of war on the most vulnerable and broken segments of our community, those without roofs.