McKinleyville seeks solutions to homeless problem

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Scruffy people walking through neighborhoods at night yelling at themselves. Grown men, high on meth, riding children’s bikes and peeking into car windows. Druggies slumped over in bushes, discarded syringes nearby.

These are some of the scenes in McKinleyville that have residents upset and concerned. Although there are no official numbers, residents say that there has been an increase in the number of homeless people in Mack Town, and that more showed up after Eureka cleared out the Devil’s Playground homeless encampment last May.

The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee discussed the issue at its Oct. 26 meeting, with members saying that they would like to address the issue at a future meeting.

Committee chair Ben Shepherd said that the committee needs to do more than just have a session where people complain about the problem. “We need to seek solutions,” he said.

Committee member Kevin Dreyer said he doesn’t know whether the homeless problem has increased, or whether it is just more visible. Either way, it is a problem.

“We have a scared population in McKinleyville,” Dreyer said.

The problem with petty criminals has gotten so bad that “there’s a level of hopelessness” among law enforcement officers, said committee member Greg Orsini.
“There definitely needs to be a solution to this problem,” he said.

The committee discussed different options, including beefing up neighborhood watch programs. Committee member Craig Tucker said that officers who become familiar with the community can help by identifying the small percentage of homeless people who are responsible for the majority of crimes.

Tucker also took one possible solution off the table. “We’re not going to build a wall and have Arcata pay for it,” he said.

The committee did not set a date for a further discussion of the problem.

The Center at McKinleyville

The county advisory committee also reflected on its Oct. 19 meeting, which was a panel discussion regarding what is being called The Center at McKinleyville. (See “Services hub stalled over concerns about homeless people,” Union, Oct. 26.)

The proposed services hub.

The proposed services hub.

The Department of Health & Human Services is proposing to enter into a lease agreement with McKenny Inc. to construct a $2.1 million 13,400-square-foot building at 1615 Heartwood Dr., just west of the Burger King in McKinleyville. The center would provide a variety of social services, which are already being provided to the community by the county. Some of the services are now being provided by the McKinleyville Family Resource Center on Hiller Road in McKinleyville. Other services are being provided by county workers who drive back and forth from offices in Eureka.

The proposed social services hub would provide a one-stop shop for these services, which are used by about one-third of McKinleyville’s population.

More than 160 residents showed up at the Oct. 19 meeting, some of them angry with the county over the proposed center. Some said they feared that the center would result in an influx of homeless people. Others complained that the community had not been informed about the center, or been allowed to give input.

The advisory committee voted in favor of the general concept of a social services hub back in early 2014. That was before there were firm plans for the facility or a proposed location.

Orsini said that one of the problems is that people don’t understand the constraints the county faces when it comes to real estate. Due to the kind of funding it receives, the county is unable to buy real estate and construct its own building. Nor does the county get to pick a specific location. Instead, it picks an overall area where it wants the office to be located. Then it advertises for proposals from developers.

In this case, it received two proposals – one from McKenny Inc., the other from the McKinleyville Family Resource Center, which proposed building a center near its office on Hiller Road. The resource center’s proposal was substantially more expensive, so the county picked McKenny’s proposal as its preferred option.

The deal, however, has yet to be finalized. The Board of Supervisors must vote on whether to enter into contract negotiations with McKenny over the lease agreement.  The board is scheduled to consider this at a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 8 shortly after 9 a.m. The supervisors meet in the county courthouse in Eureka.

If the board approves entering into negotiations, the final lease agreement would come back before the supervisors at a later date  for final approval.

“It’s not a done deal,” Orsini said.

“This could all implode in the negotiation process,” said Orsini, who added, “It’s probably a slim chance that this will happen.”

Committee members seemed to agree that there should have been more public input and public notification.

“I thought the process was horrible,” said committee member Barbara Georgianna, who added, “I wholeheartedly support the project.”

Dreyer said that the committee should have received a full update on the center proposal a year ago, and the request for proposals for building the facility should have been better advertised.

Reflecting on the Oct. 19 meeting, Tucker said “I found it real hard to sit through the meeting because I felt there were a lot of people angry and a lot of people acting out of fear.”

Rather than attracting homeless people, the center would probably help prevent more people from becoming homeless, Tucker said.

The center  would “help people live through a life crisis without ending up on the street,” Tucker said. “It’s a good idea – a preventative measure.”

Orsini agreed, but suggested that getting people to change their minds about this may be futile.

“The people that have the mindset that offering those services is going to draw those kind of people here, you’re never going to convince them that that’s not the case,” Orsini said. “I resigned myself to that about a year ago.”

The committee discussed whether it should weigh in on the center and take an official position at a future meeting, but did not make a decision or set a date for further consideration.

The committee advises the Board of Supervisors and county departments on issues involving McKinleyville.

The committee can be contacted at  [email protected]

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