Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – In Arcata, camps with bathrooms and hand-washing facilities have been set up for homeless people, who are also receiving three meals a day and are being tested, if needed, for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, in McKinleyville, homeless people are scattered around town, living in the forest and on undeveloped properties. The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) would like to find a way to change this and provide the homeless population with shelter and services.
The idea was discussed by the McKMAC at its May 27 meeting, held remotely on Zoom with 23 participants.
“I believe we as a community can help solve this problem and make things better,” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone told the county advisory committee. “The problem is overwhelming our communities.”
Madrone suggested that the first step in the process is to hold a town hall meeting to gather input and come up with solutions.
One of ideas floated is to find a place where homeless people would be allowed to stay and where services could be provided to them. Madrone acknowledged that finding a location will be problematic and that there will never be a “perfect” place to assist the homeless.
“How do we do this in a humane way? I don’t have the answers, but I know our community does,” Madrone said.
Committee members talked about the diverse reasons why people are homeless. Some have fallen on hard luck. Others have mental problems, struggle with substance abuse, or both. There are homeless children and homeless seniors.
Committee member Twila Sanchez said she has gotten to know several homeless people in her McKinleyville neighborhood.
“The population of the homeless in this area is getting elderly,” said Sanchez , adding that some of them didn’t mind camping out when they were younger, but now they are in their 60s and 70s. “They are ready to mover inside.”
McKinleyville resident Johnny Calkins said it is important for those who want to help homeless people to get to know them. “It’s the connection and building trust that as a community we need to try to do,” Calkins said.
Committee member Greg Orsini said that whatever solution is sought, it’s going to take money.
Madrone said that there are estimates pegging the current cost of serving homeless people at $60,000 per person per year. This includes the cost of everything from cleanups, law enforcement, jail and medical care.
Anne Pierson, the owner of the McKinleyville Shopping Center, said that the criminal problem became so bad that she was forced to hire security for the shopping center three years ago and has spent $165,000. She has also spent thousands of dollars cleaning up trash left behind in camps. In recent years, volunteers have had to carefully scour the lawn for discarded needles before holding the annual Easter Egg hunt.
Pierson said the issue needs to be “addressed humanely and carefully.”
Madrone said it’s not clear where the money will come from to pay for solutions.
The committee voted to appoint committee members Maya Conrad, Barbara Georgianna, Greg Orsini and Mary Burke to a subcommittee charged with planning a town hall meeting.
“The town hall is not going to be a magic wand,” Madrone said.