Chico, California, is not Richardson, Texas. But recent events there have a lesson for us here. The story is in The Intercept. In 2018 the Camp Fire burned the neighboring town of Paradise to the ground. Residents of Chico welcomed thousands of evacuees, opening their homes and shelters and turning parks and even a Walmart parking lot into campgrounds, with the Chico residents donating tents and sleeping bags. But...there always has to be a but.
But the generosity of the community didn't last. When the influx of 20,000 homeless people into the community of 100,000 didn't quickly dissipate, voters got fed up and replaced the progressives on the city council with Trumpians. "The new council's first act was to order local police to sweep the parks of campers. And then to do it again. And again." They saw cruelty as the greater compassion, thinking that crackdowns will force people to get out of poverty. It never does, but it does lead to calls for even more policing and a ever downward spiral of cruelty and poverty. At most, it drives the refugees out of Chico, making them someone else's problem. "Pass the trash," as the demeaning tactic is sometimes called.
Chico may be the subject of this blog post, but conditions there are not unique. Homelessness is a problem everywhere. Trumpians are everywhere. The lack of housing for people who lose their jobs, for minimum wage workers, even for those growing up and wanting to move out of their parents' houses, afflicts cities across America. Richardson, too, has this hole in its own heart.
Chico faced a perfect storm: wildfire refugees followed by a pandemic led to compassion exhaustion. Nice people, compassionate people, people who clean out their closets and offer sleeping bags and clothing to disaster refugees quickly lose patience when their donations don't solve the problem just as quickly and the refugees are still there the next day. And so compassion is replaced by cruelty. Whether as unintended side effect or as a deliberate strategy, the result is the same. People hurt and homelessness remains.
I guess now is not the time for me to offer my own idea of using that vacant lot (see above) that the City of Richardson purchased at the corner of Plano Rd and Apollo Rd as an urban campground, open to all. Maybe permanently. At least until another, better use of that lot is found.