Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – With frigid blasts pounding Humboldt, most of us don’t want to walk across the kitchen floor without socks and slippers on, much less leave the house at night.
Of course, if you don’t have a house, you don’t have these options. About 25 to 40 people in Arcata are left wet and shivering through the night in doorways, underneath bridges and anywhere else that offers partial shelter. All for want of the staggering sum of $2,400.
In winters past, those with no other options were able to survive the worst nights in an Extreme Weather Shelter set up in one of several Arcata churches. Participants were able to check in at the North Coast Resource center (NCRC), where they were interviewed and briefed on the rules – no booze, no drugs, no dogs, no acting out, no nonsense.
Attempts to conduct screening without the NCRC have failed badly. “We need the expertise,” said Pastor Tim Doty of Arcata Presbyterian Church. “It takes a professional.”
Those willing and able to comply with the regs could have a meal, a shower, wash clothes and then get a ride to the church. There, along with 25 to 40 other homeless people, they were able to bunk down on a floor for the night. It wasn’t palatial, but it was inside. In the morning, they were returned to the NCRC.
The process worked well, with few to no problems and hundreds spared shivering or worse when the weather met certain extreme conditions: a forecast temperature below 38 degress with wind and rain, or below 34 degrees regardless of other conditions.
But this winter, they’re on their own. That’s because a funding falloff at the NCRC has eliminated the crucial step in the process – applicant screening. Without that, the shelters aren’t feasible and dozens are at the mercy of Humboldt’s merciless weather each night.
Now, religious leaders of four Arcata churches are collaborating to restore the Extreme Weather Shelter program. Along with Doty, Rector Sara Potter of St. Albans Episcopal Church, Rev. Cindy Storrs of Arcata United Methodist Church, and Pastor Derk Schulze of Sunny Brae Church are committed to bringing back the program.
About 12 nights per winter are sufficiently harsh to trigger the emergency shelter effort. Factoring in costs of food, utilities, gasoline, supplies and personnel, each night’s screening costs an estimated $200 for the NCRC’s tiny staff and volunteers to pull off.
Each church’s congregation has committed startup funding to get the shelter ball rolling again, but their pastors hope to put the program on firmer footing by securing broader community involvement.
Individuals, businesses, school groups, service clubs, other faith communities are all being asked to pitch in with any donation they can muster. Cash is always useful, of course, but so are contributions of food and washable blankets. Donations are tax deductible, should be earmarked “EWS” and may be sent or delivered to Arcata Presbyterian Church, 670 11th St., Arcata, CA 95521, or any of the other participating churches.
“We need to pull this together, Potter said, “because the weather isn’t getting any better.”