Matthew Owen / Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 @ 11:27 a.m. / In the Middle, Op-Ed
MATTHEW IN THE MIDDLE: Homeless Strategies? Let’s Get the Faith-Based Churches Involved
The City of Eureka realized it might have a teensy little homeless problem, so it contracted with Focus Strategies, a Sacramento-based homeless consulting group, to incorporate its research into the Housing Element of the city’s General Plan Update.
Megan Kurteff Schatz, a Principal with Focus Strategies, recently gave the consultant’s recommendations to the joint County Board of Supervisors and Eureka City Council meeting, where she stated, “Eureka has over ten times the per capita homeless population.” In other words, the average city nationwide has a homeless rate of 0.2% (two homeless per 1,000 residents) while Eureka is at a 2.7% homeless rate (27 homeless per 1,000 residents). She also strongly stressed that getting the homeless into housing has been the only effective way to reduce homelessness over the past 30 years of data research.
The usual vocal minority (homeless advocates) came out in force to many recent City Council meetings lobbying for a piece of city-owned land for a sanctioned tent camp anywhere but the Palco Marsh (AKA: Devil’s Playground). The Eureka City Council (read 3 of 5 Councilmembers) declared a “shelter crisis,” against the recommendations of the Focus Strategies report and city staff. So what does this do? Absolutely nothing but make the homeless advocates feel good. They want the City to pay for dumpsters, porta-potties, public employee staff and a fence at this new camp, which would cost the taxpayers over $200,000 per year to maintain and take 6-9 months to build at best. I’ll remind you that tent cities are not housing. They just shuffle the homeless from Point A to Point B and enable homelessness.
So let me get this straight … the Eureka voters passed Measure Q (an additional 0.50% sales tax) in 2014 by a 2/3 margin, then the City laid off police and fire personnel. Now the City of Eureka has proposed using various city-owned buildings for homeless overnight shelters, such as the Municipal Auditorium, Adorni Center, the browned out Fire Station at corner of Myrtle/West, Cooper’s Gulch Building, the Sequoia Park Conference Room or the Fire Training Classroom on L Street.
Follow the math. We would stop renting out the Municipal Auditorium to the public, which generates around $100,000 per year in revenue (ya know, to pay for stuff like police and fire) and turn the Muni into homeless housing at an expense. They actually proposed setting up cots at the Muni for an “extreme weather shelter”. How many of the homeless living at the Devil’s Playground do you think will want to leave their tents where they can drink cheap vodka till they pass out, smoke meth and shoot heroin all day and night, have some privacy to partake in sex with their “social Darwin” partners and keep their dogs with them to relocate to a cot on the open floor at the Muni?
There will be rules at the Muni.
- No drugs.
- No alcohol.
- No dogs.
This is even more shocking considering one City Councilmember did an informal survey at the Devil’s Playground and not a single homeless person wanted to leave their tents to sleep on a cot in an open room.
Recently the Eureka City Council voted to spend $250,000 to “end homelessness.” Only thing is, I can’t get anyone at the City to tell me where these funds will be used or what their strategy is to end homelessness. Every time I hear “end homelessness” I have to laugh. Anyone remember George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s homeless czar Philip Mangano, who came to Eureka in 2006 with the pledge to “end homelessness in ten years.” Well, it’s ten years later and we now have more homeless in Eureka than before.
I live in Eureka and desperately want my town to look better and not be an embarrassment when our friends and family come to visit. We’ve grown immune to our social ills. Our friends and family haven’t. While I believe in giving a hand up to those who want to improve their lives, I won’t enable those begging so they can buy more drugs and alcohol. Get over your bleeding hearts and stop giving cash to the bums on the corner. Ninety-nine percent of your hard-earned money goes up their nose or in their veins. Besides, they ain’t gonna go hungry as there are numerous places for free meals around town. Many cities put up signs around town (not on 101, as that’s Cal Trans) that read, “Don’t give to panhandlers. Give to charities.” I sent the idea, and the photo at right, to the City over a year ago. It must have ended up in the “we’ll look into that” pile.
While many of the homeless advocates talk constantly about “those poor people,” many of the homeless living there are alcoholic/drug addicts who lost their jobs. This caused them to fall three months behind in their rent from spending what little money they had left on drugs and alcohol until they were evicted. From there they went back to family members who eventually kicked them out due to stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down. On to couch-surfing at friends until the friends tire of the bullshit and kick them out. Then when all else has failed, it’s off to a tent at the Devil’s Playground.
With another alleged knifing at the St. Vincent De Paul’s on Super Bowl Sunday, what are the homeless advocates going to do with the alcohol/drug-addicted who have zero desire for housing?
I’ve personally spoke with three different homeless men who claim to have lived at the Devil’s Playground for over five years. It’s the usual assortment of poor life choices: getting someone pregnant back in the day, drug and alcohol addiction, jail/prison, and not getting out from under court restitution or child support payments that they use as an excuse to never get a tax-paying job. Without a job or other forms of income, most landlords won’t rent to you, which brings me to my point. One of Focus Strategies’ key recommendations was getting a fund to use as first month’s rent and security deposits so landlords would rent to the homeless. Even with the city/county guaranteeing your rental deposit and monthly rents would you rent to a person with issues?
Social worker: “I just want to thank you Mr. Landlord as this perspective tenant is pretty banged up.”
Landlord: “My pleasure. How are we coming along?”
Social worker: “You know he hasn’t had a job in 20 years.”
Landlord: “That’s okay.”
Social worker: “Did I mention he has mental illness with schizophrenia?”
Landlord: “Yeah, we talked about that.”
Social worker: “Did I also mention he also has drug and alcohol addiction issues?”
Landlord: “Yeah, you mentioned that too. As long as you’re guaranteeing my rent, the security deposit and any potential damages to my unit, I’m okay.”
Social worker: “Great. Did I also mention he has a pit bull he wants to keep with him in your apartment?”
Social worker: “Hello? Hello?”
Bottom line … we need to come together as a community with a strategy to “manage” our homeless problem, not “end” it. Don’t rely on government to do all the heavy lifting as most other successful communities who have made a dent in their homeless issues bring together the public and private sectors along with non-profits, community groups and faith-based churches.
While New Hampshire is “feeling the Bern,” Humboldt County is about to “feel the Bohn.”
It’s already mid-February and the cutoff date for any candidate to declare their intentions to run for 1st or 2nd District County Supervisor is March 11. In the meantime the two incumbent County Supervisors have been collecting campaign endorsements and contributions. Now I ain’t saying endorsements and money win campaigns (Jeb Bush?), however they certainly help. I’m sure we’ll hear the same tired talk of “we need to get these entrenched incumbents out of office.” After all Rex Bohn and Estelle Fennell have been in office a whopping three years now. I always ask these “tired talkers” where were they when a former entrenched County Supervisor was in office 24 years? They get really quiet.