Photo puts Chico homeless issue in the limelight

Sep 3, 2014 7:16 PM by Jason Atcho

The city plaza is the focal point of downtown Chico but yesterday it was getting attention for other reasons. Some people were doing their laundry in the fountain and drying their clothes on a rope. "There's no law against washing your clothes in the in the fountain. It is illegal to tie ropes to trees in the park, so we did ask them to take that down and they complied," said Sergeant Rob Merrifield of the Chico Police Department.

Downtown Chico has gotten a lot of attention over the years, including a picture that went viral about a year ago. It showed a homeless man using the trout fountain in front of city hall as a bathtub. Police say they get at least 2 calls a day to the plaza. "Often times it's on reports of fights, complaints about people smoking in the plaza, and dogs running loose," said Merrifield.

They also try to have a presence to prevent drug activity but they can't be there all day. "Unfortunately we can't be there the entire day, so there are times where we get complaints and we respond there. We try to be proactive but it's difficult to keep up with the activity there."

Besides washing clothes and bathing in the plaza, some nights it looks like a circus with people playing with flaming batons. This is probably not what the city thought when they built the plaza. "I don't think it was anticipated that people would move here and basically use the plaza as their daytime hang out spot for the entire day but that is kind of what it's become."

When asked if new laws would help, Sergeant Merrifield said all they need is good old fashioned man power. They've had officers specifically for downtown in the past and he thinks they need them again. "If it were possible to reinstate that at some point that would, i think, make a huge improvement in what we see happening in the plaza."


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