Eureka has tried and failed before, but there’s now another concerted push underway to develop a legal, sanctioned, managed homeless encampment to serve the city’s homeless population, and the process seems to be moving rather quickly.

This afternoon the nonprofit group Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives (AHHA) will unveil its “Sanctuary Camp Proposal” at a meeting of stakeholders and other interested parties at the St. Vincent de Paul free meal kitchen in Old Town. 

The meeting, which starts at 2 p.m. today, comes fresh on the heels of a surprise speech Mayor Frank Jager delivered at the end of the Eureka City Council’s regular meeting last Tuesday. Out of the blue, Jager called on the city to buck the advice given by the city’s consultant on homelessness issues, Focus Strategies, by developing a legal encampment in conjunction with a nonprofit such as AHHA.

The idea, Jager said, would be to move homeless people out of the Palco Marsh/Devil’s Playground area as soon as possible, in time for work to begin on a new section of the Waterfront Trail. He said — and AHHA echoes, below — that the city is scheduled to start work on the new section of trail this summer, and that people currently living in the marsh will have to be displaced in order for work to be successful.

Video below:

Focus Strategies consultants have repeatedly recommended against the development of a sanctioned camp, which they say only gets in the way of the “housing first” approach — moving homeless people directly into housing. In an interview last week, though, Jager told the Outpost that there is no time to find homes for all the people currently living in the marsh if trail work is to begin on time.

Around this time last year, Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills and other city officials made a similar push for a sanctioned homeless encampment away from the Palco Marsh. However, it ran up against restrictions imposed by the city’s own Local Coastal Plan and the California Coastal Commission, and eventually the City Council voted it down. 

Though it is still unclear where the city might propose to place a legal camping site — or how to get around coastal restrictions, if the chosen site ends up being in the coastal zone — it appears that the tide may have turned in favor of a legal camp.  On her Facebook page, Councilmember Kim Bergel, one of the “no” votes last year, appears more open to the idea now, considering that Jager calls for a nonprofit to run the camp.

“[W]e have had such a great outpouring from the community, it is time to give folks like AHHA or some other group an opportunity to come forward and implement their plan,” Bergel wrote in response to a constituent.

Press release from Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives Inc.:

A Community Conversation and Collaboration on immediate homeless solutions will be hosted by AHHA (Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives, Inc.) on Monday, March 7, 2016, at St. Vincent’s Free Meal Kitchen site, 35 W. Third Street, Eureka, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

AHHA will present its pilot Sanctuary Camp Proposal for establishing a safe, legal sanctuary camp with the homeless. AHHA hopes to address questions, concerns, and take suggestions from the community at this community discussion, so that we can all move forward in solidarity to help our most vulnerable neighbors.

Development of the Waterfront Trail in the Palco Marsh will begin soon. More than 200 people will be displaced when construction commences. This is the opportunity to consider an organized Sanctuary Camp.

AHHA (Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives) has reserved the space at St. Vincent De Paul so the diverse groups working on housing and support for the homeless can get together and work on common solutions. AHHA will present its proposal for a Sanctuary Camp for the first time. Copies of the Sanctuary Camp Proposal will be available. All are welcome.

AHHA invites ongoing public Community Conversation and Collaboration discussions about affordable, safe and legal housing alternatives for homeless neighbors leading to permanent housing. The conversations will be held every first and third Mondays, 2:00pm to 3:30pm at St. Vincent De Paul’s Free Meal site.

For further information:, or contact Nezzie Wade, 445-5883.