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CHICO, Calif. – Each Friday volunteer members of the City of Chico Parks Division, known as PALS, canvas various parks and greenways in the City to help clean up trash.
On a recent outing, Action News Now Morning joined the volunteers to learn more about what they find when cleaning the City.
City of Chico Parks Ranger James LeDonne, who for years has worked in the capacity of leading volunteers, says it is common to find debris, refuse and all manner of trash in public spaces. He says he also finds a large number of illegal encampments of make-shift homes.
Along Comanche Creek where volunteers worked, the teams discovered large piles of trash along the water’s edge. Items found included tarps, clothing, shoes, bicycle parts, small furniture and even a golf bag.
As park rangers make the rounds within green spaces, they say more often than not they find camps occupied. In one large tent, tucked just feet off the main path, rangers discovered two people and a dog, inhabiting a large tent.
Rangers say once they spot a camp, they check to see if there is someone present. If so, they notify them that a clean-up crew will be coming through. That person is given sufficient time to collect any personal belongings they do not want removed. They are also reminded that it is illegal to camp in the greenway spaces. Of several make-shift dwellings, the team discovered in this outing, rangers found not only men but several women who had set up living quarters.
Action News Now spoke with Jennifer Griggs with the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care, to ask how common it is to find women living in such situations. She says on average, women account for 25-40 percent of those identified as homeless. In 2017, of the 815 homeless in Chico, 253 were women. Butte County-wide that number was 473.
Numbers from the 2019 homeless census, which took place in March, are expected to be made public next week. However, Griggs shared the survey will show 28% unsheltered women in Butte County.
Action News Now also spoke with 40-year-old Skyler. She said she has been homeless, off and on, for more than ten years. She said for shelter, she chooses not to set up tents and never camps in area parks or near waterways. She says she finds different spots in which she can throw a tarp over herself and sleep.
Park rangers say for those who do set up tents and create camps, some of the debris they leave behind can be dangerous for other visitors to the park. They say during cleanup efforts, they often find drug paraphernalia, including needles.
PALS Volunteer Mike Hicks says when he comes across something that looks like it might be used by drug users, volunteers go on high alert. He says they watch for needles to make sure they don’t get poked or injured.
Park Ranger LeDonne says many visitors to area parks and greenways do not realize that just off the beaten path, there are often illegal camps set up. He says while clean-up crews help remove debris and rangers ask individuals to remove their belongings, another such camp typically quickly re-emerges. He calls it a ‘chronic situation,’ saying the degradation of the parks and open spaces happens weekly.