My personal wake-up call that Redding was potentially unsafe happened two-and-a-half years ago when someone hurled a cinder block through the window of my locked Prius to steal my purse.
When I wrote about it, the story had 50 comments from many of you expressing your frustration, or sharing similar stories. (You can read it here.)
I remember how shaken and angry I felt driving home that cold December morning in a car with a missing window - purseless - with a passenger's seat full of glass. I took the crime personally as I looked with new, pissed-off eyes at the scruffy folks who hang out near my neighborhood Safeway (dubbed the "un-Safeway" more and more in my neighborhood.) I looked at them holding signs, or pushing towering shopping carts, or picking through garbage.
Was it you? Was it you, or you or you? What did I ever do to you to deserve this?
Coincidentally, that evening was a meet-and-greet of Robert Paoletti, Redding's then-new police chief. I parked on Placer Street that night and felt extra vulnerable leaving my car there with a missing window. For the first time, I didn't bother locking my car.
When I met Paoletti, after some chitchat, I mentioned that morning's ordeal. He was sympathetic, but gave a mini lecture about the dangers of leaving anything of value in a vehicle, locked or not.
That was December of 2011. I feel even less safe today than I did then.
On Facebook I frequently read first-hand crime-victim stories, mainly thefts and break-ins, like from Angela Lancaster, who owns the Gold Street Cafe. She shared a photo of the front door of her business, broken into last week.
That was a bad day for Gold Street businesses, because that same morning Gold Street Liquors was held up at knife-point.
Not far away, at at the Oregon Street Antique Mall, where my sister and I have a little booth, along with dozens of others, someone recently shattered the front door's glass, crawled through the opening, went directly to a locked case that contained valuable coins and other objects, smashed it, grabbed the contents and ran. Yes, the store has cameras everywhere. The thief wore a mask.
I also hear crime stories from friends and acquaintances, such as a from my friend whose mother's Athens Avenue home was recently entered by a thief via a 10-inch bathroom window, one of those tiny windows that are so high off the ground that you feel OK leaving it open, because it's unfathomable that anyone could reach it, let alone fit through it.
Welcome to crime in Redding, where the previously unfathomable has become fathomable.
My friend's mother had lived in that home for 56 years without any trouble. She lost many valuables, including cherished family heirlooms, like her grandmother's necklace. Most of all, she's lost her sense of security and peace of mind.
I hear crime stories via A News Cafe.com's daily incoming law enforcement press releases, so many that we don't publish them all, lest the entire home page be a sea of crime news. How depressing would that be?
I hear crime stories from Crime Watch, a Redding-area business network that emails crime information to the group, primarily along the Hilltop area, but also into downtown Redding. Crime Watch tells about the crimes, but also shares tips and alerts. I'm constantly struck by how many of these never appear on press releases. This is a sample:
Sounds like a broken record but the guy with the knife and Fedora was back … didn’t show the knife this time. Left heading down Hilltop toward Cypress…
...We had three trucks hit last night. This time they took a drill to the tanks on two trucks. We also had to call the fire department due to the amount of gas on parking lot. Still haven't heard any info from the last time that we filed a report with RPD with the plate number. This is the second time this week.
... The tweakers were thick yesterday on the west side. I saw 4 males that were tweaking HARD! I originally started capturing surveillance of a person that was tweaking hard after we found damage to an interior door. I was happy to find that RPD had visited and arrested the subject. Thank you RPD and to the customer that called them!...
...We had a couple of male dirtbags park in our lot on Sunday and used our faucet to wash out their crack pipe. We searched the store for anyone who might be with the two and located a female with a armload of merchandise. The Jeep Patriot (blue) pulled up to the front door and one of the occupants opened the rear drivers side door. We closed the front door and when the female approached the front counter our employee politely helped her put the merchandise on the checkout counter and she bolted out the door ...
... Just removed a young female from property who was seen smoking “meth” with a young male in our parking lot. She left without a problem. Male had left before I got to there. They are getting brave doing this in broad daylight out in the open…
...I just heard that the cell phone store was robbed at knife point on Saturday. I do not think anyone posted in on the Crime Watch...
... Black female about 5'4" 140lbs with a black shirt, jeans and furry boots carrying bags with sleeping bags. She walked into the restaurant and sat on the couch in the front. When asked to leave she kept saying, you, you, you and you're going to get what is coming to you. When asked to leave again she got up and said you're going to get what's coming to you and as she walked out said you better take care of that couch and laughed. She had peed on the couch...
Finally, I hear crime stories via my Garden Tract Neighborhood Watch emails, where we learn about things like bikes stolen from yards - even at lunch time - break-ins of cars, garages and even homes, and gas being siphoned from vehicles parked curbside or in driveways.
A few days ago a Neighborhood Watch email reported the fence between two vacant houses across the street from me had been destroyed, and one house was broken into, but the alarm scared off the intruders. It appear as if the other vacant home may have had vagrants squatting in it, though the Guam-residing owner claims that's not true. Whatever.
The very next night my sister and I confronted a twitchy young couple across the street from my house, heading on their bikes to the back yard of the very home that had been broken into just 24 hours earlier. She was super skinny and sported an electronic ankle bracelet. He took off so fast on his bike that all we could see was some kind of tool - tire iron? - across his handlebars. When they split in two directions, one neighbor gave chase in his truck after the guy, but returned to say that the bike rider was swallowed up in a group of guys who looked just like him near R&R Meats.
We'd called 911, and a police car cruised by a little while later.
When I wrote about my neighborhood encounter on Facebook, there were 69 comments, sometimes hundreds of words long. Overall, so many of us feel the same: compassionate about down-and-out human beings, but frustrated at being victimized and weary at feeling so fearful.
Here's a sample of some Facebook excerpts:
... I drive to work at 4:30 AM every morning. And every morning the streets thru town are heavy with people wandering. I'll bet that any given morning I could count 30 people walking the streets. I drive north on 273 thru town on Market...
... Few times I've rolled back into Redding late/early the wild ones are out. 3 a.m. one time 20 were just walking south of Safeway. My guess is sleep thru heat then scavenge in cool darkness...
...Is it only Redding and Chico or is it everywhere? We need to come up with a different name for transients and homeless. Most of them prefer their living situations and don't want to change, as for transients, they're not transients anymore, they're here to stay...
...Pray for them. Each of them lives their own unique circumstance...
... I travel and this is everywhere now. Once we acknowledge that maybe we can start t work as a nation to solve this. I am careful to not lump all these criminals into the homeless category as that word is quickly becoming a "race" of people displaced from permanent shelter. My reasoning is that in past as wrong as it was you could make a generalization about a race. Now if you dress too casual or go out after working in the yard you could look like a homeless person and hence be treated like one. Has happened a few times to me. Not nice feeling to be spoke down to or singled out, especially by store security or police...
... What is homeless? I look at the folks that live permanently in the hotels. That is homeless to me. I have given all my extra sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and a nice comfy sleeping pad to the homeless. I'm confused on who needs help, who uses us and who robs us...
... Nothing works except facing the real issues head on... poverty and drug addiction... It's worth our tax dollars to tackle these issues head on and if we don't ...none of us deserve to feel "safe"...I think the real question is if these people were given shelter, rehabilitation, etc ... How would they contribute positively rather than take away from the city...
Here at A News Cafe.com, we've reported extensively on the issue of the unsheltered homeless. If I live to be 200 I will never forget the sight of the homeless encampments and the people who live there. I'm haunted especially by the young people I saw there, kids who should be in college or working at Starbucks or learning a trade.
We introduced you to Sam Allen, the owner of CAROUSEL, who tried to run a business with street people doing drug deals out front.
And we've written about programs that are trying to help, such as Living Hope Compassion Ministries.
I've lived in Redding since I was 5. I know this place well. I'm not saying Redding is all bad. I am well aware of the good parts, of which there are plenty.
But I can no longer turn a blind eye to the blatant crimes happening in our city, nor the masses of clearly down-and-out men, women and even children subsisting among us.
I can no longer ignore the increasing numbers of people sleeping openly in the middle of the day with their possessions on park lawns where no sane person would dare bring little kids.
I am no longer OK with the fact that even though I live in the Garden Tract, one of Redding's most charming, walkable neighborhoods, it would be foolhardy to walk at night to a downtown restaurant or Cascade performance, with or without a male companion.
I'm tired of hearing and reading about bad stuff happening to good people. I'm tired of living in a state of mind where I sleep an arm's-reach from pepper spray and wasp spray in an alarmed house.
But I'm also distressed and humbled to remind myself that those "wild" people who wander our streets and seek opportunity or shelter - legally or illegally - even the "tweakers" and drunks - are fellow human beings, someone's son or daughter. Obviously, they are in desperate need of help.
A friend shared a quote a while back, something to the effect of: We don't have just a homeless issue, we have mental health issues, and addiction issues and poverty issues and employment issues.
That sounds about right to me.
We can do nothing, watch things get worse and feel more helpless.
Or we can brainstorm and find some creative solutions that extend far beyond Band-Aid ideas like soup kitchens, and homeless tent cities and daycare centers, because none of those get to the root of the problem.
Who knows, maybe we can put Redding on the map as the city that got this one right.
I have some ideas, which I've shared before. (Click here to read one: Good Works.)
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.