North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

November 23, 2000

Children's emergency
shelter may close

Better late than never

Weather observer reprieve

World-class sherpa

Funnyman in Ferndale

Critical choices meetings

Crime stats at HSU

Children's emergency shelter may close

Humboldt County supervisors are considering the closure of the county emergency shelter for children and the move has foster parents and others concerned.

"In reality, if they close the shelter we have no place in Humboldt County to allow kids to be housed and assessed while we figure out the next step," said Brian Nunn, president of the Foster Parent Association of Humboldt County.

Nunn's objections are at the center of the debate over closing the shelter.

No one claims that the shelter is the ideal setting for assessing children who have been removed from their homes. Many agree that the shelter has had problems -- most serious was the accidental death of a 13-year old girl in May after her nightgown caught fire.

What foster parents and others are primarily concerned about is that the closure may leave a hole in the social services network.

The children's shelter was started in 1991 as part of a state pilot project to provide such shelters. Humboldt County was not part of the original program, but when Alameda County dropped out, Humboldt applied for its space. The county purchased two buildings that had been a long-term care facility for the elderly. One was used for the Healthy Moms program and the other became the children's shelter.

"The shelter was created to give dependents and children who are in protective custody emergency care and assessment," said Randy Mayers, placement supervisor with the county's Child Welfare Services and former director of the shelter. He said that in recent years the shelter has taken on the additional function of "providing placement for high-needs children" -- something she says it was never meant to do and is not appropriate for.

Phil Crandall, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said his department wants to close the shelter and substitute a network of foster parents because homes are simply better for kids than institutional settings.

"In a time of trauma for kids, we are more interested in looking at home-like settings and parent-like figures, which is very different from the shifts of staff they see at an institution," Crandall said.

"I agree that homes are the best place to have kids," Nunn said, but some foster parents are concerned about children with escalating needs that they may not be properly prepared for.

At-risk children are classified by mental health and child care professionals as being one of 14 levels, with 14 corresponding to the most problematic children. Humboldt County currently can only accept children up to level nine -- except for temporary stays in the shelter. All high-level children have to be moved out of the county for permanent placement.

Peter La Vallee, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau, said he is concerned foster parents were going to "get in over their head" with troubled children. YSB runs two group homes for children, places that provide a higher level of care than foster homes but are homier than hospitals or mental institutions.

La Vallee said he has had experience with the problem of bad placement. Once a child was placed in a group home who required more care than the home could offer.

"We felt the placement was inappropriate and the social worker felt the placement was inappropriate, but it happened," he said. "Within a few days we discovered the kid's behavior was out of control and required constant restraint and attention. He was beyond our resources and eventually ran away."

Ironically, the group home was then cited for not providing adequate supervision.

La Vallee's story is relatively benign compared to worst-case scenarios involving a extremely high-risk child being placed in a foster home ill-equipped to handle him or her. Nunn said in his experience, high-risk children are capable of all the disturbing behaviors of high-risk adults.

"They could be extremely violent, they could kill animals, threaten adults. Mentally they're just not able to be in a foster home," La Vallee told the Journal.

But Crandall said such fears are overblown. Such children are extremely rare and he said that with an expanded menu of services to support foster parents, there is little they could not handle. The children would be assessed for mental health issues on an outpatient basis and then temporarily placed with a foster family.

Troubled children could be placed with "therapeutic foster parents" -- foster parents who receive additional training and may even have staff on hand to provide the child with 24-hour supervision.

La Vallee and Nunn remain skeptical of the plan, but both expressed the hope that a solution could be found. Nunn said the community needs to develop a strategy to address the overall issue of foster care and high-risk kids. He said he hoped this could be an opportunity to have that discussion.

La Vallee said he "isn't opposed" to Crandall's plan and hopes that it works.

"I just want the department to be thinking about the impact on the community -- what happens when these kids blow out of foster care? We're worried they're going to be sent to us and we won't be able to help them."

-- reported by Arno Holschuh

Better late than never

It's a little bit late, but Humboldt County immune systems are about to get a shot in the arm.

Because of a problem getting an influenza virus to grow, this year's batch of vaccine against the disease has been delayed. It's just now arriving at drug stores, doctor's offices, the county health department and some workplaces.

There are three strains of flu virus in each vaccine and a new vaccine must be made every year to deal with the constantly mutating virus, said Susan Wardrip, immunization coordinator for the County Public Health Department.

"This year, one of those strains did not grow as well as expected."

Plenty of the vaccine has now been made and is being shipped out. The department's vaccine clinics will begin Nov. 27. They are open to individuals 65 and older and people with a life-threatening condition with a prescription. Others, Wardrip said, should call their doctor or drug store to sign up.

Wardrip said it may be a few weeks before you can get the vaccine, but that it's still worth taking.

"Humboldt County's flu season doesn't start until the end of December and lasts until March or April," she said.

Weather observer reprieve

Human weather observers at the Arcata-Eureka Airport were given a little more time in an 11th-hour decision made this week by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA had planned to start using the Automated Surface Observer System to alert incoming pilots to dangerous weather beginning Nov. 15. Once the system is in use, human weather observers would not be able to communicate with the pilots, even though they would remain at the airport for two weeks after implementation.

Critics, including airport administrator Dan Horton, have said that the automated system may not be able to detect and warn incoming planes about the low-lying fog that plagues the airport.

Rep. Mike Thompson led the effort in Washington to keep the human observers, at least until safety concerns can be addressed. After correspondence and staff meetings failed to achieve a delay, Thompson called FAA administrator Jane Garvey Nov. 14. She extended the human observers' contract just hours before it would have expired.

"It was close," said Liz Murguia, Thompson's district representative in Eureka.

World-class sherpa

Does the name Jamling Tenzing Norgay mean anything to you?

Not only is he the son of one of the first two men to climb Mount Everest, he has also climbed it himself, and he's coming to speak at the College of the Redwoods Nov. 29.

Norgay is a sherpa, a member of the ethnic group indigenous to Nepal's high country. Sherpas have been a part of Everest expeditions since the beginning, doing the hardest and most dangerous work in expeditions -- often for one-tenth what a western guide would be paid.

Norgay will address issues facing sherpa culture like commercialism and the influx of western climbers that have changed his home forever. He will also talk about the sherpa perception of the world's highest mountain and what it was like to be up there in 1996, when several climbers lost their lives in a storm.

The talk is part of CR's Book of the Year program, which highlights one book and encourages teachers and students to approach it from several disciplines ranging from mathematics to English. This year's book is Into Thin Air, a bestselling account of the disastrous 1996 climb, by John Krakauer, who was on an expedition that lost both its guides.

For more information on the program, call 476-4358. For details on Norgay's talk, see this week's calendar.

Funnyman in Ferndale

The town you are most likely to see Jim Carrey in right now is Whoville. The actor is starring in a filmed version of the Dr. Suess classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas, set in the quaint confines of that fictional town.

Come March, you may see him in Ferndale.

The Bijou, a feature film starring Carrey as a blacklisted writer, wants to film in Ferndale, said Jensen Rufe, Humboldt County film commissioner. The city is negotiating with the producers over the terms of a filming permit.

In the movie, the ostracized Carrey loses his memory after a car accident, finds a new home in a small town and is mistaken for a soldier killed in WWII (and you thought The Grinch was farfetched).

"I can say that they want to do the majority of the film in Ferndale. Carrey would be up here for a good chunk of the time, I think," Rufe said. He estimated that the movie would be shooting in Ferndale for about five weeks.

Residents of the Victorian village have expressed concerns that they may not be able to park or access residences and businesses along Main Street. The movie Outbreak was filmed in Ferndale in 1994 and many residents were upset at the how the movie "took over" the town.

"In March or April when they want to be shooting, that's not really a peak tourist time," Rufe said. He pointed out that while Outbreak may have caused inconvenience, it also left an estimated $3 million in the county economy. He also said that the company has been trying to come up with creative solutions, such as hiring high school students to do valet parking while parking lots and streets are closed.

Rufe, a filmmaker himself, said he had been trying to convince the production company, Castle Rock Pictures, to film Bijou in Ferndale for months. After he had lost contact with them for a few months, he pulled out the heavy artillery: A basket of Humboldt County goodies.

"There was some Sjaak's chocolate, Larrupin' sauce, Abruzzi's dressing."

They got back in contact pretty quickly after that, he said.

Critical choices meetings

The update of Humboldt County's General Plan moves into its next phase with a series of five "Critical Choices" workshops to be held in coming weeks at the Woodley Island Marina Conference Room. Planners have already met with special interest groups and held community meetings in regions affected by the plan. The Critical Choices workshops will dig deeper into specific issues raised and add new ideas.

Workshops have the same schedule. They begin at 6:30 p.m. with a summary of issues and priorities, move on to brainstorming solutions, identification of critical choices and data needs, and end with "next steps."

Wednesday, Nov. 29, the topic is circulation focusing on the 101 corridor, trails, pedestrian/bicycle access, the railroad, trucks and airport noise.

Thursday, Nov. 30, the discussion revolves around development of all sorts -- housing, commercial, industrial and residential.

Tuesday, Dec. 4, hazards and preparation for emergencies are on the agenda including flooding, wildfires, fire protection, earthquakes and other geological disasters.

Wednesday, Dec. 5, planners look at building communities with an emphasis on community design and character and a discussion of signs, billboards and buffers between land uses.

The last workshop, Thursday, Dec. 6, examines issues relating to management of natural resources including timberland, preservation of agricultural lands, drainage, erosion and water quality.

The end product of all this talk is a Critical Choices Report which will be discussed at a joint Board of Supervisors/Planning Commission workshop in February.

For more information contact the Community Development Services Department at 268-3704 or got to on the web.

Crime stats at HSU

Bob Foster, chief of the HSU police department, said that HSU was in the top three or five CSU campuses in terms of safety.

"I think the thing we have going for us is our geographical location and the fact we have small-town influence," Foster said.

Statistics show there were very few violent crimes last year -- no robberies or murders, and only one recorded assault -- down from seven in 1998.

There were 20 arrests for liquor-law violations on the campus and 24 for drug abuse. (By comparison, Chico State University, once rated the No. 1 party school in the nation, had 17 and 18, respectively.)

Arrests are only part of the story, however. Foster said officers have managed to curb the drinking and drug problem on campus by taking a "more assertive approach to alcohol and drug abuse," which may lead to more arrests but also results in a smaller overall problem.

The number of discipinary actions taken (not arrests) for such offenses has dropped to 62 from 132 two years ago. By comparison, Chico had 629 disciplinary actions for drugs and alcohol this year.

Foster said the biggest crime problem on campus remains petty theft. "It's the book bags and small items, sometimes a bicycle."

For the complete set of crime statistics for HSU, go to


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