Mad River Union
MANILA – A proposal to locate a camp or tiny house village in Manila for the homeless was met with resistance last week, but the town’s board plans to further research how it can address the local homeless problem.
More than 40 people showed up at the May 18 meeting of the Manila Community Services District Board of Directors, with some of them speaking out vociferously against the district being involved in a project to house the homeless. Others, however, urged the board to keep the conservation going, and to explore options for dealing with the issue.
The meeting was held just a few hours after the Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition released the preliminary results of the 2017 point-in-time count of Humboldt’s homeless population. Conducted by members of the coalition and volunteers, the count indicates that 668 people in Humboldt County experienced homelessness on the night of Feb. 27, compared to 1,180 counted in 2015. Fifteen homeless people were counted in Manila.
A non-profit group called Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives approached the district about opening a tiny house village or camp somewhere in Manila. Members of the group said they were interested in possibly using district property or private property, but did not specify an exact location.
The agenda item was informational only without any specific request for district action.
Roy Dalhberg, one of the nonprofit’s board members, explained at the meeting that due to the state of the economy, and due to lack of help for people suffering mental and physical handicaps, there are a large number of people who need housing assistance.
“So we are left with this reality: those who can’t find employment, or whose disabilities prevent them from being self-supporting in the traditional sense, are going to have to care for themselves,” said Dalhberg, a retired lawyer who lives in Trinidad. “With our assistance these folks can develop self-sustaining lifestyles and communities. If we do not assist them to do this they will necessarily live in the dark corners of our society, their clandestine presence unnecessarily imposing on our daily lives and continuing to make us realize that we are refusing to take the relatively simple actions that can move us in the direction of a humane and cost effective solution.”
Manila resident Edie Jessup, also a board member with the nonprofit, stressed that the village would be carefully managed and have rules. She also noted that the homeless that some fear would come to town are already in the town.
But Manila resident Rick Settles warned that opening a homeless camp in Manila would cause serious problems for the town.
“I worked for the Arcata Night Shelter for six years, so I have worked with the homeless,” Settles said.
Most homeless, Settles said, receive a Social Security. When the money arrives “they go straight to the Motel 6 or Motel 8, and they’ll stay there until the money is gone. The alcohol is drank, and the drugs are gone. And then they’re right back out on the street, wanting a handout, wanting back in the shelter,” Settles said. “I know this because I transported them on a daily basis, bus loads going to the Arcata Night Shelter.”
Others at the meeting complained about homeless people who travel up and down the old railroad tracks that run through Manila and rip people off people along the way. Others lamented that there are homeless drug addicts who leave needles behind at Manila Park.
Manila resident Linda Lee said that the homeless population is actually diverse. There are many different types of homeless people, she said. The ones who are ripping people off and living a life of crime wouldn’t qualify to live in the tiny houses anyway, said Lee, who voiced support for pursuing a small-scale housing project.
After receiving public input, the board wrestled with how to respond. Being that there was no specific request before the board, there wasn’t any specific action that needed to be taken.
Board member Carol Vander Meer said she was neither supporting or opposing any proposal regarding helping the homeless, but wanted to further study the issue. She suggested the creation of an ad hoc committee, made up of two board members, which would meet with people and further explore the issue.
Among the issues that the committee could look at, Vander Meer said, was the idea of the district declaring a shelter crisis.
Board President John Woolley said he would oppose creation of the committee.
“It’s not that we can’t be helping out with the homeless situation, but I think it’s premature for us to spend time on an ad hoc level to encourage conversation that should be done by the community,” Woolley said.
The board ultimately voted 4-1, with Woolley dissenting, to create the ad hoc committee. The board is tentatively scheduled to further discuss ad hoc committee and select its members at its meeting on Thursday, June 15 and 1611 Peninsula Dr. in the sandy outpost.