I read dozens of letters to the editor every week. Honestly, because of the sheer numbers, I forget about many of them shortly after or even before they are printed.
But one stuck with me all week and made me so disgusted, I want to publicly apologize to the writer, Bayleigh Salazar.
She’s a 23-year-old Chico State student who had never written a letter before. She wrote to tell about a Sunday night trip on her bicycle to the Safeway store on Mangrove Avenue, where one of many homeless people hanging out in front of the store asked her if she wanted to “cuddle.”
She told the guy off, and he shamed her for it, but she raised a good question in her letter: “How am I supposed to feel safe in what is supposed to be my home city in my collegiate years when I cannot even buy dish soap without being propositioned? What are you going to do about it, Chico, to keep not just permanent, but your college residents safe in these times of homeless overpopulation?”
I’m sorry, Ms. Salazar. What happened to you is disgusting and Chico is a better place than that. You shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of lewd comments and propositions from transients just because you have to buy a bottle of dish soap.
It’s embarrassing that Chico has changed like this, but there’s no denying it. Sadly, this is what we are.
It’s not just a problem at Safeway. It’s all around town — in front of businesses, at bus stops, in parks, along creeks and under bridges. The problem exists for many societal reasons. One of those reasons is because we let it.
It’s important to recognize that the problem is caused by a very small percentage of homeless people. The majority, I’d say, are not confrontational people, just trying to improve their lot in life.
Then there are the jerks, like the ones Salazar encountered, and the criminals, like the ones that are in the news every week. They have been coddled by too many people in town who make excuses for them, who complain that people are trying to “criminalize homelessness.”
Nonsense. People are trying to criminalize lawbreaking and lewd behavior. But that’s hard to do when people are saying we need to understand their circumstances, or their mental illness, or their addictions.
What a load of compost. If a person is sleeping in the alcove of a business and won’t leave, or stealing bicycles to feed an addiction, or shoplifting booze because they think they’ll get away with it, that needs to be dealt with. And if some person wants to lewdly proposition our mothers, wives and daughters at the grocery store, they deserve every bit of fire that should be rained down on them.
My fear is that people are accepting this as normal, just the way things are. Natalie Hanson, an editor at Chico State University’s Orion, sent out a link to the newspaper’s police log on Thursday with this blood-boiling description: “More bike theft around campus and yet another indecent exposure case.”
“Yet another.” It’s old hat. Normal. And that’s not good. Not at all.
Another bad sign it’s become commonplace: Five or six Chromebook tablets were stolen from Chico High School on Sept. 6. There was surveillance video of the thief. Chico police were so familiar with the suspect, they recognized him on the video. The man, described as a 25-year-old transient, was arrested a week later.
Another bad sign: A man walked into Liquor Bank downtown, stole a beer and reportedly told the clerk, “Call the cops because I’m not paying for this.” The clerk obliged and called the cops. The man was arrested and taken to jail in Oroville — then released that same day. That’ll teach him.
Let’s not lose compassion for the homeless, but let’s demand accountability for the small percentage of transients that are causing problems. I’m sick of it. I believe most Chicoans are, too.