I don’t know if there is actually more crime in Chico, or more problem reporting crime and getting the cops to do something about it. I do know, I see more “homeless” people around town than ever before, and I hear more complaining and anecdotes from people about petty thefts, vandalism, and generally unpleasant behavior.
This problem is NOT confined to the little section of the city known as “Downtown,” but city council only discusses the problem within those boundaries. “Sit and Lie” only applies to Downtown, for example.
So I turned to my county supervisor, Maureen Kirk. I wrote her a nagging e-mail about how the Mangrove Plaza/Vallombrosa Post Office area is becoming a magnet for panhandlers and drunks. They take positions right outside Safeway, oftentimes between the shopping cart bay and the front doors, with dogs, with all their stuff. They will actually walk out in front of supermarket customers to ask for money. They camp pretty unabashedly around the post office annex, tearing bricks out of the retaining wall where they sleep at night and leave their belongings/garbage during the day.
I’m waiting for Maureen to come back to me with an update regarding a roughly million dollar grant Butte County Behavioral Health received this year to beef up services for the mentally ill, including transients picked up by Chico PD. At meetings I’ve attended, the police have complained that Behavioral Health was underfunded, and after 5pm and on weekends, the police had nowhere to take folks who seemed to be a “danger to themselves or to the public,” except the ER at Enloe.
Imagine yourself in there at 1am with a screaming child, and there’s a guy laying on the gurney in the next slot, covered with his own poop and muttering obscenities. Or not muttering at all, looking pretty dead. A person who is believed to be “a danger to himself or to the public…” They’ve used our hospital ER, which charges roughly $7,000/hour, as a drunk tank.
I knew Behavioral Health was understaffed – I’d looked at the salaries, and seen – the director seemed to be a revolving door position, often empty. The salary was only about $58,000/year, while other management were making in excess of $75,000/year salary. “Staff” consisted of interns making less than $10,000/year, with no benefits. These folks came and went, and I can’t believe that kind of staffing is conducive to anybody’s mental health.
When the grant came up on the agenda, it looked as though they were hiring a couple of senior doctors, both compensated at well over $100,000/year including salary and benefits. One of these doctors will only be available via computer link. The rest of the hirees – it looked like, the folks who actually have to deal with the day-to-day problems of the clients, were to be compensated less than $50,000, total salary and benefits.
I don’t like the salary scheme, but at least the department is getting staffed. I dropped Maureen a note asking, does this mean the center will be open 24-7 for Chico PD to drop off transients and other patients? She said she’d check on this and get back to me. I’ll be interested in hearing what she finds out, thanks Maureen.