Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
D STREET NEIGHBORHOOD CENTER – The Community PRIDE Project (CPP) met Dec. 7 at the D Street Neighborhood Center in Arcata.
More than two months in, it’s apparent that the group will not join the ranks of previous flash-in-the-pan downtown reform movements, and is committed for the long haul. Simply meeting more than two or three times makes CPP the superachiever in that category, but the group isn’t just persisting – it’s evolving.
The initial fires of outrage over deteriorating downtown conditions that fueled the CPP’s first meeting Oct. 2 at The Jam family tavern on H Street have turned into focus, with sub-groups working through issues scoped out in those halcyon days of nine weeks ago.
The core issues – downtown civility, safety and appearance – remain largely unchanged from what was brainstormed at that very first CPP meeting. Addressing them with a problem-solving mix of direct action, such as cleanup and services, as well as interfacing with officialdom and other, more experienced benevolent organizations, are things the grassroots citizen-activists are learning how to do as they go along.
Group leaders reported in at the Monday night, Dec. 7 meeting, describing the progress of their respective focus areas. Among the initiatives are improving homeless services, keeping downtown clean and eventually formalizing the CPP’s status as a nonprofit organization and refining its messaging. In attendance were city staff and a city councilmember, various concerned citizens and Arcata Main Street (AMS).
The group is closely coordinating with AMS, and was present during the Dec. 4 Season of Wonder & Light kickoff. Offered at the CPP table that night were toothbrushes and socks for the homeless. Also present was Dan Bixler of the Greenview Playground Renovation project, with which CPP is also associated. An offshoot group, Transform the Heart of our Community, is pursuing a ballot initiative to remove the statue of William McKinley from the Plaza.
More outreach to the homeless and underprivileged is planned, possibly in conjunction with Arcata House Partnership (AHP). This on the theory that addressing needs will reduce nuisances like aggressive panhandling and shoplifting.
Brandie Wilson of the Services Team said she’s been told by area caregivers that “outreach on the Plaza is not OK.” Attendee and photojournalist Bob Doran, who is assisting with the Media Team, noted that Food Not Bombs (FNB) now serves food with impunity on the Plaza. “Just do it,” he urged.
City Manager Karen Diemer said there have been “mixed experiences with food on the Plaza.” She offered a capsule history of the FNB saga, which involved Health Dept. citations and courtroom drama. At one point, as part of a compromise with the city, FNB even prepared meals in the D Street Neighborhood Center’s kitchen, then biked them down to the Plaza.
“It depends on what the service is,” Diemer said. With any large-scale feeding operation, she said, “I think you would have trouble with some of the businesses.” Historically, free-lunch giveaways can lead to crowds, then drinking, then fights and other petty crime. This then reflects poorly on the well-intentioned food providers.
“It’s not the 90 percent that come for the food,” Diemer said. “It’s the 10 percent that come for trouble.”
Arcata House Partership’s E Street Annex still has functioning showers and a kitchen from the old Arcata Endeavor days, but its ability to utilize them for homeless assistance is limited. AHP’s core mission, though, is transitional housing rather than triage.
An urban myth about there being a city ordinance banning day shelters that offer refuge for the homeless at the Annex was debunked. The ban supposedly stemmed from “mismanagement at the Arcata Endeavor,” which used to occupy the building near the Transit Center. The Endeavor’s successor, the North Coast Resource Center, folded in 2012 after loss of grants and disaffection by former supporters.
Outreach Group member Koa Shea said a mobile outreach effort is being considered. “We’re trying to think outside of the Annex and what it would provide,” she said.
CPP volunteer Sasha Elizabeth said “blessing bags” – purses and backpacks filled with supplies for the homeless – are being assembled, and donations accepted.
Human Resources team member Nathan Johns described his attendance at a meeting of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) at Humboldt State. The group advocates for the homeless via community organizing and other means.
“It’s pretty remarkable how staggering this issue is,” Johns said. He said WRAP could be a useful resource in promoting solutions to street issues.
CPP co-organizer Steve Gieder said the Friday downtown cleanup effort is, with an assist from the wet weather, showing results in terms of less litter.
“I’ve noticed that it’s been a lot cleaner,” he said. “We’re having a positive impact.”
Even last Friday in the rain, volunteers could be seen picking up trash in off-Plaza alleys.
There was discussion about eventually rescheduling the cleanup event to Saturday or Sunday. When someone suggested that more buckets and pickup poles were needed, Diemer said, “How many?” As a result, the city will supply 10 sets of the litter-removers.
While the Saturday Yoga on the Plaza event has been suspended due to soggy turf, the Sunday Plaza Play Group for families is still going strong. “It keeps putting out a good vibe that there,” Gieder said. “We can create an environment where kids and moms feel safe.”
Gieder offered thanks to a long list of CPP supporters and collaborators in the community, the news media and the city.
The next CPP All Community meeting is set for Monday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. A mixer is also being discussed for the end of January.