Arcata has a lot of things going for it; beautiful beaches, majestic redwoods, rich arts, a diverse music scene, a thriving college , great schools, and some of the nicest people I have ever met.
There are however a few things we all know are problems but we let go on out of pity. In particular, I am referring to the rampant urban camping problem in Arcata. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that a place to safely sleep is a human right. We all need rest. What I am talking about is the destruction of the Marsh, The Community Forest, and even private property.
People resort to camping in the restricted areas because they have nowhere else to go. We all know that, so we turn a blind eye to the problem. Every night people leave the streets and find little protected areas where they feel like they might be able to get some rest.
On face value that wouldn’t be a problem, but it is. The “squats” are often filthy, littered with liquor bottles, broken glass, human and animal waste, condoms and hypodermic needles. This, in turn, makes it unsafe for us to use these places for what they were intended for, recreation.
My 10-month-old puppy almost cut his toe off this week, while walking on a leash, after stepping on a broken bottle just off the path in Redwood Park. The culprit was a broken vodka bottle. That just as easily could have been my daughter’s hand or, god forbid, her eye.
How many RVs are set up as long-term housing that moves from neighborhood to neighborhood? How many of those do you think take their human waste to a proper place to empty the tank? How many of us have looked out into our yards to find someone camping there?
I would love to get military recruiters out of our schools, but let’s get the campers out of our yards and parks first. That is something the City can actually do.
Long-term goals for creating transitional housing are great, but they only address a small part of the problem. Even though it may cost some upfront money, and have some insurance liability issues, I firmly believe that Arcata needs some sort of campsite where the homeless can sleep and wash, that isn’t difficult to access and is a safe, clean environment for those truly in need of a safe night’s sleep. People would use it as long as they didn’t feel they were “being watched at every turn.”
A lot of the homeless have substance abuse and or mental health issues. Wouldn’t it be better to have a place where services can be OFFERED, not pushed, where people that use needles can dispose of them properly, where parents that are on the street can guarantee a safe night’s sleep for their kids, and the police can patrol regularly to minimize disruptions?
As it stands now, we have people and animals using the streets as their own personal restrooms and bedrooms. That is how disease and crime spreads. It is disgusting, and it has to stop.
There will be abuses, there will be some people that will have to be barred from using the services, but in my opinion the benefits outweigh the problems tenfold.
Mark Sailors, owner/pilot of Arcata Kineticab, is an Arcata City Council candidate.