Humboldt County, and its economic and administrative center, the city of Eureka, has a large population of unhoused families and individuals. As a result complaints have arisen from the Eureka business community that the homeless, who have no real place to go, are creating an untidy environment.
The city has appointed one half-time position to address this situation. That position is in the Eureka Police Department and is filled by a person with no apparent background or expertise in homeless issues.
Eureka, like the county, offers no housing options for the people on the streets. It appears that the more or less unspoken strategy of these local governments is to make life in this community so difficult for the homeless that they will simply “self-deport.”
Other local governments throughout the nation initially adopted that same strategy but many are now recognizing that that is untenable and are working with their own resources and volunteers to provide housing.
Humboldt refuses to seek much of the financial assistance offered by the federal government and generally does not try to work with volunteer organizations.
Indeed Eureka and Humboldt have so alienated the volunteer entities that they have not been able to comply with the federally mandated “Point in Time” count to ascertain the true number of homeless within their boundaries.
Reliable estimates are that there are presently thousands of homeless within the county.
Over the years the Eureka Police sought to encourage/coerce these people to congregate in the Palco Marsh, a remnant of the city’s once viable lumber industry. A little over a year ago the city evicted the approximately 400 people living in the marsh.
Prior to the eviction, the city, through its police chief, promised that all the residents of the marsh would not be made to leave until there was another place for them to legally live. The city did not keep this promise and as a result, the individuals living in the marsh became not only homeless but placeless.
Earlier this year the police floated the idea of cutting off all volunteer services to this community by severely limiting parking in the neighborhood where homeless folks congregate.
The city also asked volunteer providers to refuse to supply food and emergency shelter to anyone who had not been given police supplied vouchers.
Previously the city has outlawed people sleeping in cars and begging for food and has fenced off the sidewalks on which the displaced congregated. The city’s transportation committee did not agree with the parking proposal and the volunteer providers did not agree to cease providing services.
The city has now issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) asking for interested entities to propose means to create and operate a “day center” that would only provide a place for homeless persons to go during the day rather than being on the streets during the day. At night, they would have to leave to sleep in the bushes, doorways, and under business eaves throughout the city.
The city has made no offer to fund its proposal, has made no attempt to provide a place for the “day center” and has steadfastly refused to address the question of where the homeless might actually live.
Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives (AHHA) has been attempting to address the issue of homeless in Humboldt for the last few years.
AHHA is aware of the concerns of the business community, and others, who have experienced damage and are inconvenienced by the presence of the homeless community.
Homelessness is a significant problem throughout the nation and especially in areas where housing costs have risen beyond the means of many families and individuals whose income is not significantly above the average family income in the region.
AHHA recognizes that homelessness is a problem for the community as a whole and that Humboldt and Eureka are unwilling to devote any significant resources to the problem.
But AHHA also understands that the problem is not going to go away and that refusal to address it has led to great suffering and the waste of police and medical resources and to economic and social disquiet among the business community and the population as a whole.
We also recognize that creation of an unfunded “day center,” will have no positive impact on the situation. Indeed it will almost certainly lead to costly litigation, both civil and criminal, and further community disruption.
AHHA therefore requests that Eureka, in cooperation with Humboldt, withdraw its request for a proposal for a “day center” and instead ask that they, in cooperation with various concerned volunteer, business and other government entities, come forth with a proposal that will allow a meaningful solution to the problem.
As communities around the country grapple with homelessness numerous models are developing which could be adapted to and adopted by Humboldt. AHHA suggests that initially Humboldt and Eureka provide resources to assist the homeless community and concerned citizens to establish refuges for residents who happen to be houseless.
Initially these refuges might begin as camps with centralized feeding, sanitary and socializing facilities. These camps, which would not need to be in immediate proximity to residential neighborhoods but would need to provide access to social services, could start out composed of temporary shelters. They would be as self-governing and self-policing as possible. The initial focus of the refuges would be implementation of a strategy of “safe, warm and dry” first and then would begin to try to develop enduring solutions.
One of the models is a transitioning of shelter housing into very low cost “tiny house” communities. These communities would presage enabling those folks who can live independently to do so. Many of the homeless will almost certainly require ongoing social services to deal with their physical and psychological situations.
Ultimately these steps will lead to happier, more wholesome, cheaper and far more humane situations than the current strategy of trying to drive the homeless community away.
AHHA asks Humboldt and Eureka to issue a new RFP calling for the creation of refuge communities in appropriate locations in the county.
We stand ready to assist and take responsibility for and, in conjunction with others acting in good faith, to offer leadership in this effort.
Edie Jessup, a Manila resident, submitted this guest column on behalf of the Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives Board of Directors.