Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – Caring for people in need has always been a struggle, and currently it’s something of an internal one among local care providers and their agencies.
Closed for three months, its staff dissipated and $20,000 short of funding required to re-open, the North Coast Resource Center (NCRC) is now seeing the services that form its core mission – food outreach and the engagement of individuals in need – being taken up by others.
The NCRC board of directors, now down to three people, is frustrated by what it sees as lack of communication by its former partner agencies, as well as a maddening paradox: the others are taking on the NCRC’s traditional duties because they don’t foresee it being able to do so. But being locked out of the local service provision picture undermines the NCRC’s ability to gain grant funding to do the work in the first place, perpetuating its marginalization and irrelevance.
For their part, former collaborators complain of poor performance and lack of communication by NCRC – particularly with regard to the use of some of the funds raised specifically for the wintertime Extreme Weather Shelter being used by the NCRC for an entirely different purpose last year – daily operation of the Arcata Service Center (ASC), located across from the Intermodal Transit Facility.
At the same tme, while it is increasingly sidelined, the NCRC has one major, if temporary asset envied by others – the lease on the City-owned ASC.
These issues and others came to a head during a tense meeting at Sunny Brae Church last Wednesday, April 4. NCRC Boardmembers Derk and Wendy Schulze complained of being sidelined, saying that the ostracism is preventing the organization from re-establishing itself.
The Schulzes said they had been hearing of new developments of interest to the NCRC from third parties, with business being done “behind closed doors.”
“We’re not getting any cooperation from the other non-profits,” Derk Schulze said. “There seems to be a lot of double talk and misinformation.”
“We have been told so many things,” Wendy Schulze said. “We don’t know what’s up.”
Quite a bit, it turns out.
• Arcata House, which provides transitional shelter, and the Humboldt All Faith Partnership (HAFP), which operates the Arcata Night Shelter, are studying a possible merger.
“We have been working closer and closer over the last six months,” said Karen “Fox” Olson, director of Arcata House.
She said unifying the two groups’ administrative structure could reduce duplication, freeing more resources for the groups’ mission of sheltering people.
“It seems to make more sense to try to streamline expenses,” she said. “We’re in a courtship position, but we haven’t even given each other rings yet.”
She said the two organizations’ marriage could be consummated by the end of the year.
• The HAFP has received a $47,000 CalFresh grant to purchase a food service truck, which will distribute lunches prepared at the Night Shelter three days a week at as-yet undecided locations.
Community Development Director Larry Oetker said discussion of the food truck goes way back, the theory being that it could deliver food relief to where people need it while not concentrating needy individuals in need at one location.
Oetker said the City isn’t participating in establishing the truck, and that its sole contribution has been to advise the HAFP as to where to locate the truck while conducting outreach, and that would be on private property in industrial or commercial zones where well-established mobile food vending regs would apply.
• Food For People, which has been operating out of the Presbyterian Church on an interim basis, is looking at moving to the Church of the Nazarene, which now hosts the Campbell Creek Connection.
The talks are in an extremely preliminary stage, with no plans yet made, said Jason Hervyn, pantry network coordinator with Food For People. He said a meeting has been set for April 17 to begin the planning process, which will include engagement of the local community and the Nazarene’s neighbors. Meanwhile, the Tuesday food service at the Arcata Presbyterian Church will continue until Nazarene service might be established.
The above developments, confirmed at the meeting, only compounded the dismay of the NCRC representatives.
“I’m wondering where that leaves us,” said Brenda Bishop, NCRC boardmember. “We have not been asked to the table in a lot of collaborations.”
She said the NCRC’s three-part plan – to re-open, re-establish and repair its relationships in the community, and reassess its direction – was being stifled by the freeze-out. Further, she said, NCRC members had been subjected to personal and professional denigration, with old grudges surfacing unhelpfully.
“We’ll do anything to make collaboration work,” Bishop said. “We’re on the same team.”
She said NCRC members had heard that the organization could participate in the overall service picture, but that current boardmembers would have to resign.
“Where do we stand?” Bishop asked.
Pastor Tim Doty of the Arcata Presbyterian Church said he couldn’t respond to loose talk the NCRC may have heard from others, but he had some beefs with it.
Doty said he’d suffered some inappropriate public criticism by former operations manager John Shelter, but that the real problem was the organization’s questionable use of Extreme Weather Shelter (EWS) monies for daily ASC operations.
When it came to light that no funds were left over for this season’s EWS – even though enough for roughly two years’ worth had been raised through community fundraisers and service clubs last year – there was frustration among the Arcata pastors who had spearheaded the effort.
Between screening, meals, sanitation, transportation and staffing, the shelters were estimated at the time to cost $200 per night, and just 17 were held last year – presumably leaving funds left over for this season’s EWS. But when winter came there were none.
The pastors asked the NCRC for some documentation of the disbursement of the nearly $7,000 raised for the cold-weather shelters, but that none was ever provided.
“The communication totally broke down, and not on our part,” Doty said. “We feel that communication and accountability are essential.”
Derk Schulze said that the communications breakdown and misdirection of funds was because of the mess the NCRC was in last year. He said the organization’s books and records were in a shambles, and that “there were things we didn’t know about, that other boardmembers were doing.”
"I feel like it fell apart when John said he needed the funds for operations,” Doty said, “He’d broken a covenental agreement.”
At the time, Shelter said that the shelter nights turned out to be more expensive than originally estimated for the ASC, where participants were prepared for lodging. “It’s all together,” he said. “Without the facility, you don’t have the extreme weather shelter.”
David Horwitz, president of the Arcata House board, acknowledged the NCRC’s honorable intentions and the commonality of their goals with those of HAFP, but suggested that it ought to bootstrap itself.
“I don’t want to rehash the past,” he said. “You now have to convince me that you have the ability to put those services together,” he said. “If you put together a program, I want to help.”
Derk Schulze pled for cooperation. “Even though the past is the past, we are having trouble re-establishing trust,” he said.
Wendy Schulze objected to being displaced, and being accused of poor communication – something that’s now stifling the NCRC. “We’re trying to rebuild, but finding other services starting up,” she said. Funding, she said, is dependent on food service, soon to be embodied in the food truck rather than the ASC.
“It’s a two-way street,” Bishop said.
“Why are you not supporting us?” Wendy Schulze demanded.
Horwitz responded comprehensively. “For years I stood up for the NCRC,” he said. “Now I see you’re closed for three months and have no staff or finances. Nothing has increased my confidence in your ability to pull it off.”
He said the real issue is effectively providing services, and the other groups are moving forward to do that. At some point, he said, the NCRC will have to make a fundamental decision as to whether it is still a viable entity and can make proper use of the ASC lease, which runs rhrough June, 2013.
“There’s always work to be done,” Horwitz said. “You have to decide whether the NCRC is the vehicle to rescuscitate or not.”
If NCRC is not going to be financially or structurally viable, Horwitz said, the ASC lease should be renegotiated with the City to allow others who are really doing the work to utilize it.
Oetker said the NCRC asked in December for three months to regroup and restore service. “This is kind of the time when we expected them to come up with a strategy,” he said. While the NCRC has control of the disused ASC as long as it abides by the terms of its lease, Oetker said staff would be reviewing whether that is still the case.
Olson pointed out that the ASC was specifically designed for homeless assistance, and feared that the longer it is not used for that, the higher the risk that it might be reassigned for some other purpose.