Letter: Demand to End Direct Disregard of CDC Interim Guidance on People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness COVID-19

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Attn:  Butte County Board of Supervisor, Chico City Council, Chico Public Health Officer, Butte County Office of Emergency Management, Butte County Continuum of Care

By Crystal Sanchez

With all due respect, I write on behalf of the Sacramento Homeless Union, Chico Homeless Union, the California Homeless Union/Statewide Organizing Council, my position as the Western Regional Director of the National Union of The Homeless, and our Legal Teams. It has come to our immediate attention that the rights of local unhoused Chicoans are being violated. Therefore, we are forwarding this to the Legal Services of Northern CA.

We have become aware that approximately 100+ unhoused individuals were forced to move to the outskirts of town due to local ordinances and sweeps. This action has displaced these individuals principally to Comanche Creek, the Lindo channel, and Teichert Ponds.  They are subject to extreme heat, have access to a negligible amount of potable drinking water, have no faucet for people to fill their bottles with, no services, and no access to life-saving necessities. We are aware of the injunction by Judge Morrison C. England Jr., which the City of Chico has minimally followed. Even with this injunction in place, the City of Chico continues to force unlivable conditions onto people experiencing homelessness. The unhoused community is suffering from cruel and unusual punishment as found in the 8th Amendment. We watch as the city urgently tries to create a sideline shelter to evade the realistic solutions required by the injunction and by CDC Guidelines.

As a Union and our collaborating community partners, we witness that you plan to exile the unhoused community by bussing them to a hazardous location,  directly adjacent to the airport and approximately 500 ft from the landing strip. It is negligent, to say the least. Based on our research, you will be placing people in direct danger, and here is why! Chronic exposure to jet fuel has been shown to have adverse effects on human liver function, cause emotional dysfunction, cause abnormal electroencephalograms, cause shortened attention spans, and decrease sensorimotor speed. Due to the decision by the United States Air Force to implement the widespread use of JP-8 jet fuel in its operations, a thorough understanding of its potential effects upon exposed personnel is both critical and necessary. Exposure to potential environmental toxicants such as JP-8 may significantly affect host systems beyond those readily visible (i.e., physiology, cardiology, respiratory, etc.), e.g., the immune system.

You are going to place individuals on gravel to lay their tents or property. This area is inappropriate and violates the injunction around sit/lie in essence. People will not be able to do either on the gravel. Also, as you will read below, temperature and death are a factor as to why this violates CDC guidelines and the rights of the unhoused under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5. “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Which also correlates to violations of the 8th Amendment of cruel and unusual punishment.

The City of Chico and Butte County must work together with local organizations to bring individually packaged water and infrastructure to the residents of the existing unsanctioned camps referred to above. Currently, multiple volunteer groups are bringing water to Comanche Creek with no assistance from the city or county. Medically we are aware that there will be deaths at these camps without these life-saving preventative measures. We will hold City and County officials responsible if this happens. As we are sure you all know, our bodies consist of approximately 60% water.  Our bodies begin to shut down at temp 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit. We would remind you that when it’s 105 degrees outside, the asphalt is 140+ degrees(this is where you plan to place individuals). The hypothalamus region in your brain controls heat regulation. When the brain is compromised, you feel fatigued, which is your brain telling your muscles to slow down, i.e., heat exhaustion leading to heatstroke. Persons may then experience seizures or coma as tissue stops functioning and their organs start to leak toxins into their bodies, leading to a multi-system failure and death. Exposure to the Elements is often not listed as a cause of death but rather as organ failure. We will request independent autopsies if we feel that there is a lack of political will/ action and that the system is failing is a factor.

Also by not providing restrooms, you are endangering the unhoused and greater population forcing humans to defecate in nearby creeks and on land. I share experiences from Sacramento with you in hopes you will prevent the same failures in your communities. Partners in Sacramento fought for restrooms for  people living on the river. We forewarned our city about environmental and public health issues. Just this week we got word that the e. coli levels.  In 2019 people were getting sick. The linking factor was trips to the river. We had the river tested and we had 3x the levels for e coli. Human defecation is part of the cycle, you go where you have to when you need to go. We expect to see the same outcomes for Chico if proper sanitation is not brought in immediately. The City of Sacramento is slowly progressing by actively engaging and working with impacted voices.

Be advised that the Homeless Union and its coalition partners will continue to bring direct, life-saving support to our members and the broader homeless community.  Our efforts will include monitoring and documenting for possible legal action against your continued endangerment of public safety. We have become aware that the city is going to try and rush placement into the sanctioned camp. We feel this camp is unsafe and are wondering if it has been authorized by the  Legal Services of Northern California legal team and by Judge England. We as a community have a rise to know what is going on. The unhoused are not being communicated with and are forced to comply with policies that violate our rights. Due to the urgency of the pending move and the extreme heatwave, we are asking for a response by the close of business day on June 25, 2021.  If we do not hear back from you regarding a meeting on how we as a community with the representation of impacted voices can strategize around homelessness and pending issues, and if you do not issue a written order requiring basic life necessities as advised by the CDC to be brought to the camps, we will notify the appropriate state and federal regulatory and law enforcement authorities, as well as organize our legal teams to move legally.

Finally, finding simple information in your city and county is inaccessible. Pages like the Butte county wide Continuum of Care page, The Butte County PIT count page, and many other government pages lead to malware pages. The lack of community access to vital documents is unacceptable; it lacks transparency and accountability. We align with the list of demands presented by the Sacramento Homeless Union in much greater detail, let this letter signify our support for this collection of demands, as we collectively ask for our voices to be heard. Sacramento Homeless Union Demands. Attached are pictures of the inhumane shelter being created.

Crystal Sanchez is Western Regional Director of the National Union Of the Homeless


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