Mad River Union
MCKINLEYVILLE – Homeless people camping in the woods, used hypodermic needles scattered in the streets and a seemingly endless string of petty crimes are among the challenges facing McKinleyville.
Some of these issues, and a few potential solutions, were touched upon during a recent meeting of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee and on social media.
“We’re looking at big, hairy problems. We’re not looking at easy stuff,” said Hillarie Beyer, executive director of the McKinleyville Family Resource Center at the committee’s Oct. 25 meeting.
Homeless in McKinleyville
During public comment, Steven Madrone, who is running for Fifth District Supervisor, said that there has been an increase in the local homeless population since Eureka cleared out what was known as the Devil’s Playground area along the water front in Eureka last year.
“There is a very large increase in habitation of wooded areas in McKinleyville, Hammond Trail, even Trinidad on Scenic Drive,” Madrone said. “Wherever there are wooded areas that are near bus lines ... I believe we’re seeing a significant increase of those people.”
Beyer said she has not noticed an increase in homeless at the resource center since the Devil’s Playground was cleared.
In an interview last week, McKinleyville resident and community activist Scott Binder, who regularly cleans up homeless encampments in McKinleyville, said he hasn’t noticed an increase in the number of homeless either. Rather, some of the homeless have been misbehaving more in public, making them more visible.
“They’re being much more flagrant now,” said Binder, who blamed part of the problem on Prop. 47, which reduced penalties for petty crimes, and similar state laws that encourage prisoners to be released on probation.
Binder said that some of the criminals are no longer afraid of law enforcement and are now “more brazen” when it comes to crime.
The situation got so bad at the McKinleyville Shopping Center that its owners recently fenced off its gazebo, which had become a magnet for people who abuse drugs and alcohol.
“That’s a horrible thing,” committee member Dennis Mayo said at the recent meeting of the McKMAC.
The fencing off of the gazebo coincided with an online petition started by Binder asking that the owners of the McKinleyville Shopping Center do something about criminal element in the area.
“This is out of control, and it needs to stop,” the petition states. “Every day there are social media reports of the hangabouts harassing, panhandling, and stealing from residents and merchants alike. They will walk into Safeway, and walk out with baskets of products with impunity. Alcohol and drug use is rampant, especially in the gazebo area, and in the greenbelt behind Safeway.”
“Not only are the patrons and customers suffering, but the merchants are as well. Every day we hear reports of people saying that they are taking their business elsewhere due to the unsafe atmosphere in the area, be it experienced or perceived. We need our businesses to succeed if we are going to move forward as a community, and the current atmosphere there is an extreme hindrance. Please, step forward with additional measures to make our citizens feel safe in our center of town…because we are running out of patience,” states the petition, which was supported by 663 people, according to the Change.org website.
A meeting with Greg Pierson of the McKinleyville Shopping Center, Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg and Binder is scheduled for this Friday to further discuss the issue and work on solutions.
Another issue discussed at the committee meeting is the problem of used hypodermic syringes found in parks, streets and greenbelts.
Committeemember Greg Orsini, who is the manager of the McKinleyville Community Services District, referred to a recent social media post regarding a woman who found a syringe at Pierson Park and was displeased with how the district responded.
Orsini said that the district’s maintenance crews carry sharps containers and regularly pick up syringes from parks and other facilities.
But sometimes, he said, the syringes are hard to spot and crews may miss them.
And the problem of syringes, he said, is not limited to the town’s parks.
“There’s a problem in all of McKinleyville with irresponsible ... disposal of hypodermic needles,” Orsini said.
Orsini said that he picks up three to four needles, sometimes more, a week during his short walk from his home to the district’s office on Sutter Road.
“It’s a symptom of a bigger problem,” Orsini said.
Drinking at parks
Another problem is people gathering in the town’s parks, drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
Orsini said that the McKinleyville Community Services District doesn’t provide law enforcement, so when people encounter such problems, they’re directed to first call the Sheriff’s Office.
In response to people drinking in parks, the district’s Board of Directors passed a resolution Nov. 1 requiring that people who want to drink at district parks obtain a permit from the district.
If people want to enjoy some wine while playing bocce ball at Pierson Park, they will need to obtain a permit from the district to do so legally.
The district also requires that the permitted drinkers also have food with their booze, so you’ll need to at least pack a baloney samich.