Engage your “leaders” regarding the transient problem

9 May

After I posted the picture my husband took in Bidwell Park I sent it to Mayor Sean Morgan with this note:

Mayor Morgan,
> I am sending a photo of a mess my husband and dog walked into Friday morning in middle Bidwell Park, along the Fitness Trail. I don’t know the station numbers, but I think this bears investigating. A cursory walk through the area between the freeway and Manzanita Avenue would turn up many illegal camps. You will see small but well established trails leading back into the blackberry vines and other non-native, overgrown brush, where you will find trash piles and oftentimes occupied camps. My husband has encountered people in tents right on the main trail.
> We’ve reported these camps in past, this very spot has been cleaned within the last six months by the alternative custody program.
> This is disconcerting given Chief O’Brien’s recent revelation that bicycles are being stolen to fuel heroin habits. We see other articles in these trash piles, oftentimes bike parts, stuff that looks like it’s been taken from people’s garages  – even a real estate sign in one pile. We’ve found poop tied up in those bags the city provides to pick up after dogs, piles of them. We’ve found the little caps that go on syringes at places like Cedar Grove and along the Fitness Trail. This is our neighborhood, where we live, our adult children live, and where we have rentals. We wonder why illegal camping is being allowed in a park that traverses a large area of town, and is so overgrown, a criminal can disappear through a gate and into the bushes faster than a jack rabbit.  These people are predating our neighborhoods, and public works department staffers have told us the campers have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and must be given notice before they can be kicked out. They are not required to take their garbage.
> How ironic.  These people are practicing illegal Search and Seizure in our homes while our families are at work and school, but they get Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights by pitching a tent in the park.
> Having heard/read your comments regarding the parklet for Starbucks (and I wholeheartedly agree with the latest decision), I know you must be as disgusted as I am with what’s going on  in Bidwell Park. My family and my tenants need to hear you have a plan to do something about it. All we hear is how the city doesn’t have enough money to fix roads and clean the park, but the pensions get paid no matter what.
> Thanks, at your convenience, for your anticipated response, Juanita Sumner

He responded fairly quickly and it seems we are in agreement about the problem.  


Disgusting picture to be sure.  I am frustrated by the transient issue and short of throwing all the service providers out of town (which I’m told won’t work) I’m short on plausible solutions.  Our police Target team and Park Rangers break up camps on a regular basis only to see them started again. 

 I am forwarding your email to Chief O’Brien who I know will forward it to Target.  The camps will move then pop up again (leaving trash, debris, and worse).

I believe making Park Rangers fully fledged police officers will have some effect but not a magical one.  Until we stop protecting the people taking advantage of our community we’ll continue down this slippery slope.  The Governor says they’re not criminals and the Sheriff can’t house them.

Regarding the pensions: you nailed it.  Illegal not to fund CalPers (which can’t seem to earn a decent return to save it’s life) while we can’t keep up on street maintenance in our town.  Municipalities in California are in for a rude awakening (one we avoided once) as sales tax revenue disappears (lost to the internet) and pension cost rise.  In Chico we’re doing all we can to hold pensions and salaries in check without losing valuable safety officers.

We do have some things coming (not tax increases, those are on someone else’s agenda) and I expect to see some improvement soon, but if the majority that runs this state doesn’t realize how they’re killing it, there won’t be much left to fight for soon.  BUt fight we will.

Thanks for letter and continued vigilance.


Well, there he acknowledges the problem.  Since he offered no solutions I offered him some of my suggestions.

Thank you for your courteous reply,

I think the first thing you can do is reject the “continuum of care” coordinator – this position is nothing more than a grab for more federal money to house more of these people in our county/town. [The city of Chico has been asked to approve and provide funding toward this position, which requires matching funding to get the grant.]

Also, I don’t know where you live in town, but you might consider running for county supervisor. Both Kirk and Wahl have consistently voted to fund the Behavioral Health programs that are bringing these people here.  I think they’ve had their term and they need to step down, time for somebody new give that office a whack.  [Both Wahl and Kirk are up in 2018 and maybe Morgan could do a better job as county supervisor than he has done as mayor – he would have more authority to defund Behavioral Health.]

I’ve worn myself out reporting these camps to the police and public works department. Eric Gustafson told me these people have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, in our park?  I’m also tired of hearing we don’t have enough money to deal with this stuff. We’re paying people to tell us they don’t get paid enough to work. The spot I showed you has just been cleaned by the alternative custody program, but they don’t go far enough. They need to remove non-native, dead, and overgrown vegetation.  We’ve talked to these people – they’re not real workers, my own kids could run circles around them. They stand around yakking, looking for the first passerby to stop and talk to.  [They aren’t supervised.]

I’m glad to see Dan Efseaff get the boot, we need to get rid of more management do-nothings. He once  told me he had brought the Salt Creek crews in and the work we saw was great. He said these crews cost about $100 day, but he couldn’t afford to bring them in again?  [See the link below for professional services these crews provide.]


No more Alternative Custody Service, let’s get the real crews into the park and you’ll see how many hobo camps they find buried in there. I grew up here, I remember the Bidwell Park of the 1960’s, and it’s a disgrace how bad it’s got just in the last 5 or so years since Nakamura gutted our work force to give management bigger salaries. You and council must figure out how to get rid of these overpaid suits and get more workers in here on the same budget. Good luck.  [I didn’t want to remind Morgan, but he and Sorensen stood by and cheered as Nakamura cut positions and quietly raised management salaries.]

thanks again, Juanita  

I have not received any response to my second e-mail, and neither Chief O’Brien nor the Target Team have contacted me about the homeless camp I pictured. 

Please engage these people – sean.morgan@chicoca.gov – mark.orme@chicoca.gov – michael.obrien@Chicoca.gov  – and let them know how you feel about this situation.  Send pictures, that seems to get their attention.

Tom Wolfe called it “Mau-mau’ing the Flakcatchers”.

4 Responses to “Engage your “leaders” regarding the transient problem”

  1. Don May 9, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    I do not pretend to have a fixall solution, but have some ideas. I understand funding and manpower is always an issue. Since the park is a community park, maybe the community can step up. Recently in the Orland area people banded together to clean up a homeless camp, removing many tons of trash, furniture and other items. This was a community project done by ordinary people. Change happens when people get involved.

    1. Chico has many service groups like Rotary and others. Is it possible to do a rotating monthly cleanup by these groups? The frats and sororities are always looking for community service projects, could be another source.

    2. Could the county waive the dump fees to allow disposal of the trash?

    3. All over California sections of road are cleaned and maintained by businesses and groups, you can see the signs posted. What about a similar plan for the park by dividing it into sections?

    4. Regular presence could make a difference. It could also keep the problems from mushrooming, i.e. small piles become huge mounds.

    Homelessness is not a crime. However, leaving trash, dangerous items and other things is. These items represent a danger to others. It does not take money to cleanup your trash and put it in a garbage can.

    Many people are quick to talk about the rights of the homeless and how they are being trampled. Where is the conversation about the responsibility of the homeless? If you you elect to “camp” then cleanup after yourself. If you are going to use a space, leave it better than you found it. It is not responsible to leave your trash for someone else to cleanup. This is part of living in society, no matter how you live in it.

    The park was a gift to the city, to be enjoyed and preserved by all. No group has the right to damage, litter or destroy it in the name of asserting their “rights.”

    This issue causes frustration. Is it possible to transform frustration into positive action? I am not talking about passing judgement. I am talking about keeping trash out of the park and keeping it safe for everyone.

    • Juanita Sumner May 9, 2017 at 11:38 am #

      Thank you Don, for your positive and considerate comments.

      The camp sites are full of human poop, drug paraphernalia, broken glass, and other dangerous items – this is a job for professionals. I also believe these sites should be gone over for stolen items – there are usually bike parts scattered around, as well as items that look like they’ve been stolen indiscriminately from people’s garages. In one pile my husband and I observed cardboard boxes full of Christmas and other holiday decorations, that included special holiday family photos and other personal trinkets. Somebody stole those boxes out of a garage, and then left them there when they found nothing of value to them.

      These sites have been cleaned again and again, by city staff, neighborhood groups and by the alternative custody program (jail inmates), only to be trashed again. The site I pictured has been cleaned within the last few months, and there it is again. To me, that’s enabling behavior. We’re enabling the illegal campers, and we’re enabling the staffers who collect salaries in excess of $100,000 to do nothing.

      Our city staff enjoy very generous salaries and benefits. My family pays over $5,000 a year on our home to support salaries for people who say they don’t have enough money to do their jobs. We bought an old crapper two blocks from the park – it was not even livable. We had to make major repairs, everything from the roof down, and what did we get? Reassessed for more than $200,000 beyond what we had paid. The assessor stood right in my front yard and told me my proximity to Bidwell Park had “positively influenced” his assessment. If I had known then what a problem Bidwell Park would create in future I would have set my dogs on him.

      What groups like Rotary should and could do is put pressure on Chico PD and the city to provide the services for which they are generously compensated. That could be done through a letter campaign, phone calls, maybe even a billboard or two.

      I agree about regular presence, but as you said in your first post it is not safe to be in the park alone. This morning I was riding my bike through the park to get Downtown and encountered a crazy guy under the freeway. He was standing across the trail I was on, he was huge, acted aggressive, looked directly at me with a scowl – I turned my bike off on a side trail. I’m a 57 year old 115 pound woman, I don’t really think my presence is going to do much but provide them with a victim.

      I think positive action would be to continue to put pressure on elected officials and staff to do the job. We also need to reject the proposed “Continuum of Care Coordinator” position that will just bring more of these people to our town. You can write to city council and your county supervisor and tell them to reject funding this position. As usual, it comes with a grant, but when the grant runs out, we are on the hook for salary and benefits for one more talking head who doesn’t do any work.

  2. Regina Erekson August 31, 2020 at 8:21 pm #

    First, I’m a transient. I do not have any substance abuse issues. I moved from Brooklyn back to Los Angeles, where after 6 weeks, I fled due to domestic violence. I was working, but I’m a paycheck to paycheck type of single woman. Like many people I was taking antidepressants already. I had no family or friends I could turn to for help. So a bad situation got worse, when at every turn I was told I wasn’t eligible or there just was no help available in L.A. So I stayed at the beach for the Summer sleeping in my car out for repossession and then made my way North. I agree, some people do steal anything to cover a drug addiction.
    I was told in one location that since I hadn’t paid local taxes that I didn’t deserve help. I had to come all the way to Chico to find a place where I could live indoors. Living in a shelter, with early 20 somethings who believed themselves to be my babysitter.

    During my time as a homeless person in Chico, I have been refused treatment at Enloe, escorted by 5 police officers no less, because I was taking advantage of services, I know I’m the most badass 4’8″ working on 50! I wasn’t allowed shelter because I ran late at the laundromat. I was bitten on the mouth by a pitbull at the Jesus Center and nobody offered a ride to Enloe for my 9 stitches. I barely got a ride from the paramedics. Bed bugs infest the shelter. I was there 2 years while regularly going to Behavioral Health where I was continually mis medicated for something it turns out I never had. The police were called on me by Show Love because I was crying when the owner told me I was trying to get her designer clothes with my voucher (vera wang for jc penney). Many times I’ve been told I don’t look homeless. WTF? The list goes on…

    I’ve seen homeless newborns, whole families, college students, veterans, singles and seniors. People with serious physical health issues. If you don’t like how people are living like animals in Bidwell Park, don’t treat them like animals! Make bathrooms available. Give them housing. Teach financial empowerment. Provide addiction services and identify and address the root cause of addiction and homelessness… especially since nobody really seems to understand who they are.

    • Juanita Sumner September 1, 2020 at 6:36 am #

      Gee, I got treated at the hospital – and then I got a bill for roughly $80,000, with a threat to put a lien on my house.

      I work paycheck to paycheck too – and I supply housing for 8 people.

      I’m sorry, I don’t think everybody is on antidepressants. I hope you’ve quit that, those are just drugs.

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