Back in 2010 The Atlantic published an article titled “Broken Windows”, which theorized that if a vacant building has a window broken and no one repairs it, then soon another window will be broken, until all windows are broken. Then the building gets graffitied. Then vagrants and homeless move into the building and soon after a fire starts, burning down the building. Then this anti-social behavior spreads to other buildings, other neighborhoods and soon the entire city goes to hell. Basically street crimes flourish where disorderly behavior goes unchecked.
Notice any similarities to Old Town, Downtown Eureka and The Plaza in Arcata? In a recent Times-Standard editorial, an Arcata merchant described the social ills of working on The Plaza to the Arcata City Council, “…meth, heroin, loitering, trespassing, sexual harassment, defacing of public property, stealing, panhandling, human waste…”. While those of us who work in Old Town, Downtown Eureka and The Plaza deal with these problems on a daily basis, I noticed the Times-Standard editor didn’t offer any opinions on how to remedy these issues. To quote former President Teddy Roosevelt, “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.”
Ever since Ken Kesey wrote his 1962 novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest” which was turned into an Oscar winning film, we’ve seen dramatic changes in the way society deals with persons with mental illness. During the ‘70s, the ACLU, along with liberal judges, demanded that mentally ill patients be given their civil rights and released from state run mental facilities. The conservative state legislatures were only too happy to go along with this. “Think of all the taxpayers’ money we’ll be saving.” Wanna take a wild guess where most of these mentally ill folks ended up? Yup, our streets. In trying to do a fiscal good, they created a social nightmare.
Back in 2006, Malcolm Gladwell wrote his ground-breaking story “Million-Dollar Murray” on Murray Barr, a homeless alcoholic in Reno, (Washoe County) Nevada, whom they estimated ran up a minimum $100,000 per year in legal and medical bills that the County had to pay per year, for a ten year period, hence the “million-dollar man”.
Humboldt County (and every other county in the United States) has our own version of the million-dollar homeless person. Nick Adams produced an amazing video of Guy Anderson (see above), a local homeless alcoholic who had over 300 calls for emergency service in 2013 alone. Wanna take a guess who paid those bills?
At a recent CSAC (California State Association of Counties) conference, the subject of homelessness came up. Like the scene out of Spartacus, one by one, each of the county representatives present stated:
“We’ve got a huge homeless problem.”
“We must be a magnet for the homeless.”
“You think you’ve got problems, you should see our county’s homeless problem.”
“No, we’ve got it worse.”
“No, our county has it worse.”
Every county representative there thought they had the worst homeless problem in the state.
It ain’t just here in Humboldt. Some folks in Redding (Shasta County) are getting fed up and started the “Crumbling Town Redding blog” (The horrific demise of a once beautiful and peaceful town in Northern California) to document the social ills of that town.
Some proactive ideas from Redding on dealing with homeless encampments on private property: “The City of Redding must follow a court-defined process to abate illegal camp sites for legal reasons. That process takes a significant amount of time. (A private citizen) is not subject to those same legal requirements because he is essentially operating as an agent for the property owners.”
“Private property owners are under much less restrictions than the police and code enforcement team to clean up their own property.” Eventually, working with private property owners is exactly what led to (a private citizen’s) most dramatic before-and-after successes in terms of cleaning up some of the illegal camps
In other words, don’t wait for government to do everything for you. If it’s private property and with the owner’s permission – just do it.
Just the other day I had to go to Poletski’s for an issue with our stove and decided to head back to work using Westside surface streets. On Summer Street alone between Henderson and 7th Streets I counted seven abandoned shopping carts in the middle of a residential neighborhood. For each shopping cart I pulled off to the side of the road (not supposed to text/email while driving) and emailed Eddie Wilson, the EPD Shopping Cart Czar (email@example.com) with the address.
The good news is the EPD in conjunction with John Shelter has gathered over 300 shopping carts and returned them to their rightful owners. The bad news is there are still numerous shopping carts littered all over town.
EPD Chief Andy Mills has been pushing for a bike ordinance to go after the GMOBs (Grown Men On Bikes). Let’s be clear, this ordinance is not going to target young children on bicycles or adult Green Wheelers who ride their bikes to work or for recreation, but rather to target, and let’s use the correct word here, “profiling” tweakers on Frankenstein bikes who ride through our neighborhoods and business districts ripping off anything that ain’t nailed down. I’ve personally witnessed one GMOB driving through a business district lifting on car door handles looking for the unlucky driver who didn’t bother locking their car.
The latest homeless camp has sprouted just to the left of Humboldt County Office of Education on Myrtle. Next time you drive by take a gander at the environmental damage and ask yourself where the heck NEC, Baykeeper, EPIC and Friends of the (fill in the blank) River are when you need them? Pretend Rob Arkley owned that piece of land. How many hours do you think it would take their Bay Area attorneys to file a lawsuit?
Just the other day I got accosted by a homeless tweaker with jail house tats, although he must have been melancholy as he had two teardrop tattoos below his left eye. I didn’t mind the homeless dude yelling at me, except for the fact that the baby stroller he was pushing throughout town complete with whatever piece of crap he could locate while dumpster diving contained a freaking sword that he unsheathed. I’m talking a Game of Thrones sword while walking through Old Town.
So here’s the question for our community – are you comfortable with broken windows or are you going to do something about it? Are you willing to call/email EPD’s Eddie Wilson every time you see a shopping cart left on your street or are you happy with your neighborhood looking like crap?
Are you willing to support the bike ordinance so the EPD can target GMOB tweakers doing crimes throughout our town and the Arcata City Council’s smoking ordinance or are you going to make obnoxious anonymous comments on a blog?
Former County Supervisor Jimmy Smith used to carry pothole patching material in his truck as he didn’t want to wait the three months or three years for public works to fill in the potholes in his district. Jimmy just did it himself on his own dime. Arcata City Councilmember Michael Winkler carries around spray paint to cover up any graffiti on public buildings. What are you willing to do?
You don’t see volumes of these problems in Healdsburg or Napa. The locals won’t stand for it. You can either get involved to make your city better or you can comment anonymously or worse yet, write an anonymous blog that always complains, but never, ever offers any ideas or solutions. You decide.