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CHICO, Calif. - The city of Chico moved in to start cleaning up camps at Bidwell Park Tuesday morning. Witnesses say they were told the city was only removing personal belongings and abandoned camps, but many others still packed up to leave.
Dozens of peaceful protestors, including Councilman Scott Huber, demonstrated at the lower park gates.
One man who has been staying at the park says,"It shouldn't be a crime to be homeless and that's what they are doing, they are turning homelessness into a crime in Chico." He added, "Every single day to have people look down at you, we're out here struggling, I'm not out there breaking the law, I'm out here trying to live my life, trying to survive."
At the park Tuesday morning there was tension between many people who were on both sides of the issue.
Robert Martin, from Chico says, "There's no reason that people should be living in the parks." He added, "The first time someone set up a tent and no one told them not to, that was the beginning of the problem. The problem is that this should have never happened."
Carol Kelly, who lives in Chico says,"These people have nowhere to go, what are they supposed to do? Right now they seem to be taking the unoccupied tenting sites out but I don't know if they are going to start going after the ones with people there."
pic.twitter.com/ddyxjJOEU6 — Jafet Serrato (@JafetSerratoTV) January 12, 2021
At the first meeting of the newly seated City Council, all but two council members voted to make it a misdemeanor to break the park rules that ban camping. Last year the previous council voted to allow camping in the park, with the goal of helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among homeless people by letting them shelter in place rather than move around.
We don't know whether any citations were issued Tuesday.
City leaders say they are still working with area service providers to establish shelter alternatives.
Tuesday afternoon, Chico Police Chief Matt Madden provided Action News Now with this statement.
"I was happy with the voluntary compliance that we saw today in our efforts to clean up Bidwell Park. I attribue this success to the relationships that our Target Team has been able to build in our community I appreciated the help and support that we received from the City of Chico’s Public Works and Parks Department. Our Target Team showed patience and compassion, making sure that only unwanted garbage was removed from the park and allowing people to retain their property. We also offered to store any property for anyone that needed it. As we continue to enforce this law, we hope that we continue to see compliance. If people still refuse to leave after the 72 hours and have been given the opportunity to do so, we will enforce this law with citations. This law is a misdemeanor so physical arrest is also possible."