Whose being mau-mau’d here? Trying to get answers out of public staff, I’m just getting “the business”

11 Feb


I got so many issues I’ve been trying to follow lately, let’s just take a little walk and talk.

Yesterday I tried to pick-up a conversation I’ve been trying to have with county staffers about the programs administered for local homeless, mentally ill, and indigent citizens. I sat in a meeting last Summer at which county administrative office Paul Hahn reported the county spends “over half” it’s budget on these issues. This is frustrating to me because I don’t see any good coming out of their efforts. I see more homeless on the streets, I see more crimes, I hear about more crimes. And lately, I’ve heard more grousing about it from other taxpayers. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve overheard casual questions from fellow citizens about why the “homeless” are allowed to possess obviously stolen shopping carts, why they are allowed to camp along waterways, as well as around public buildings and shopping malls, why they are allowed to have unlicensed (unvaccinated?) dogs, why why why.  I’ve read newspaper reports of the recurring arrests of the same persons for the same crimes, or worse – the crimes escalate, from seemingly petty stuff like driving without a license, to stabbing a woman 54 times in a drug-induced rage.

As you read these reports you have to ask yourself – how many of these street people are on crank? Selling it? Committing crimes in order to pay for it?

Sitting in meetings Downtown, or reading reports from Butte County Supervisor’s meetings, you see the stream of money that is being pissed onto this fire, and you have to wonder – why are all these loonies/druggies running our streets? Where’s all this money going? 

You think you’d just be able to ask a question of these people – good luck!  I’ve been trying to get answers ever since I sat in that meeting with Paul Hahn last Summer. After I heard a police department representative say they spend so much time with street people down at Enloe that they want the city to pay for a special substation inside the hospital,


I wondered why. The county  received a big grant to hire more behavioral health staffers. They’d bought a new building over on Cohasset and hired a new  director, Dorian Kittrell, at over $200,000/year, just in salary. All that money spent, and the cops are still stuck at Enloe babysitting street people? The county is supposed to have a special unit, a new building, and funding to pick these people up and take them off the cops’ hands. I wrote a note to my  county supervisor Maureen Kirk last August, asking for an explanation.  She referred me to Kittrell.

He responded, “We are moving along with program implementation in the ERs – Enloe included. We have many of the staff hired (though not all the staff – we are finding some challenges recruiting for the evening shift staff) – and will hopefully be interviewing a new group of candidates next week or the week after. Our IT departments are working together and are almost finished with setting up the secure internet connections in the ERs. Finally, we have completed site visits for Medi-Cal certification and are just waiting for State/Federal response. Our Crisis Manager is working with Enloe to begin setting up training for staff. I am hoping that program start-up (at least at Enloe) will begin in early to mid September. We are also working to get triage personnel in the shelters during this same time frame.

In the meantime, we continue to provide the mobile crisis services at the ER as we always have.

Hope this information is helpful. Let me know if you have any further questions.”

But I kept hearing complaints from Chico PD, wanting more money, using the homeless and street crime as the carrot. In October I asked Kirk and Kittrell why Chico PD was spending so much time with these people given all the money the county was spending on the new building and staff.

Kirk responded, “This is a complex issue. Behavioral Health has grant funding to hire staff to help with the mentally ill in all three hospitals. There are two BH staff at each hospital from 11am – 8pm. The crisis management team is on call 24 hours per day. The new arrangement has helped with the ER problem. I have been told that the Chico PD is not spending considerable time watching over these patients as they had in the past. I would like a correction if that is not true. The biggest barrier is that often these patients need to be placed somewhere when they are discharged. Often, our 23 hour facility is full to capacity. It takes time to identify a placement and often it is out of town.

 The other question is about the new facility. The county has closed escrow and is remodeling this facility. It will be crisis placement for ten clients. It is hoped that they would stay at the most for one month. During their stay, there will be services to get them stabilized on their meds, if needed, counseling and finding more permanent housing. This should be operational in the near future.

 I have not heard about the police substation at Enloe. I will pursue that to find out more about it.

 Behavioral Health is an asset to our community and does an excellent job with the resources that are available to them. The mental health issue and ERs and police staffing expertise are problems throughout the state.”

Kittrell chimed in,

“Maureen, you have outlined this fairly well.   The biggest issue facing people waiting in the ERs is the number of acute psychiatric inpatients beds available at any given time – they are often full.  There are plans for another 120 bed facility to be built in Sacramento but that is two years out.  Since I have come to Chico, I have purchased 4 beds at a Yuba City inpatient facility which has increased the total number of beds controlled by Butte County to 20 (16 in our Chico facility and now 4 in Yuba City).  In particular, the number of inpatient psychiatric beds for patients that have medical needs (in other words, they need a psychiatric bed but also need hospital level services, e.g. have IVs or need significant wound care, etc.) are in greater need and these types of beds are almost non-existent in Northern California (Woodland Memorial has approx. 20 of these type of beds for the entire North State).

 I have not heard anything about a substation at Enloe, either.  I do have a meeting coming up with Chico PD this month and will inquire.”

I responded with a link to the Chico Currents site and the interview with Van Rossum. He responded further,

“I will inquire with PD to get a better idea of when they may stay in the ER.  Generally, if a client is cooperative our staff can assist ER staff in providing care.  There can be times when law enforcement may need to continue to provide assistance – particularly if there is a crime involved or significant risk of danger as a result of the client’s behavior.  Each case is evaluated to determine what is in the best interest of the client and the community and the staff.   It is important to note that while there are behavioral health staff in the ER to assist with clients, the client is in the care of the hospital.  Behavioral Health staff are there to provide assessment, support and assist with psychiatric hospitalization or another disposition for the client.   I have not heard recently of prolonged wait times for PD in the ER but will check in on this issue at my meeting with them later this month.   I hope this information is helpful.  I will be out of the office until Wednesday of next week.  If I receive any further from PD I will share it with you.”

Okay, I know that’s a can of worms, but what I got out of it is, the county spends “over half the budget” on these programs for how many people? And I also see a total disconnect with the city of Chico and especially Chico PD.

Of course neither of them got back to me about this substation business. You know, I get tired of that kind of treatment. It’s very insulting, but of course, we have to treat them with the utmost civility and respect, or they are allowed to blow us off for good.  I try to back off when I feel I’m getting on their nerves.

But lately the “homeless” situation has just been getting so bad. I know it’s not just me – I get searches, I hear from friends, I know other people are more fed up than me. I listened to a very sinister conversation between a retail cashier in North Chico and a customer ahead of me about “getting rid of them.”  I sincerely fear this situation will result in violent attacks on the truly helpless.

I just paid my property tax. I’m a landlady so I am paying for four households, that comes out to a burden. When I think of the upgrades I could make on my rentals with that money – my tenants should be pissed off too. And they are – they are constantly telling me Chico is becoming “unaffordable,” between the utility rates, groceries, daycare, healthcare – all run up by these ridiculous public salaries. When you and your spouse make less than $100,000 between you, it’s tough competing with people who make over $100,000 with one salary. They drive up the cost of everything, just by existing. 

You pay these kinds of rates – you’d expect to be living in some kind of Wonderland, but here we are, looking at filthy bodies laying in piles of trash in our public parks and school yards, walking on sidewalks that make you want to throw your shoes away, wading over bodies at our  retail outlets, dealing with unlicensed-unneutered-unvaccinated dogs – what are we paying for? 

Try asking that!  I have.  Hellllloooooo?

The other day I saw an article in the ER about the county supervisors extending the amount of time a person can be involuntarily held by the Behavioral Health Department. Besides the connotations of “Chattahoochie” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” I was suspicious about the true intentions behind this policy change. I’ll  be honest – I think they just want more money. 

I wrote to Kittrell and Kirk again, reminding them I never got an answer regarding the substation. I try to be nice.


 We never finished the conversation below, you were going to get back to me regarding claims that Chico PD spend so much time in Enloe ER that they need a substation. You were going to inquire with Chico PD .  I didn’t bother you about it because I know your time is valuable, but I’m still wondering if you got an answer. 

 Enloe and the police department both claim huge expense in dealing with mentally ill indigents, but I have never seen the true numbers.  That’s why I’m curious when they say they need a substation at the hospital at more cost to the taxpayers.

 I have another question about a story I read in today’s paper about an extension of the psychiatric hold.  I’d appreciate it if either of you could answer, or refer me to another staffer who has the information.

 How much money does the county get for a person who is held this way? From what agency? 

 Thanks for your patience in answering my questions, Juanita Sumner

I always wonder if I could have worded things better, am I doing something wrong? It’s so hard getting a straight answer out of these people.

Kittrell responded,


 I am very sorry you did not get an answer from me on the question of law enforcement in the ER – I have been working with the new Chief of Police and it has been helpful to have a collaborative relationship with his department.   I would be happy to discuss with you the mutual efforts we are making on collaboration.   I also appreciate your interest in the psychiatric inpatient unit.   I would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues from the Behavioral Health perspective.  Would you be willing to meet?  I am adding my assistant, Kristy Hanson, to this email so that she can arrange a meeting if that works for you.

A meeting? Why can’t you just answer my question? Or, like I asked, refer me to a staffer? When do I have time to go to a meeting? I had to get up at 5:30 am to post this, as I have a full day of work ahead of me.  I work my ass  off to maintain my properties because after I’m done paying my property taxes I don’t have enough money to hire anybody. I try to stay on top of issues that cost my tenants not only money, but quality of life, and this guy says we need to have a meeting before he can give me a straight answer? 

I get so mad, but I try to be polite. I responded that I don’t have time for meetings, and I asked another question, “where will these people be housed?”

I got a response from Kittrell immediately,

I am out of the office and will return Tuesday, February 16th. Beginning Friday, February 12th I will not have accesss to phone or email. If this is urgent, please call 530 891-2850 and ask for Amy Wilner Asst. Director for Administration.”

I bold faced that notice about him being out of his office because that’s the second time he’s told me that. I guess the commute to his home in Yuba City is rather time consuming.

UPDATE: I got a really nice note from Tim, which I answered here:



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