Saturday, December 12, 2015

City Revisits Plan for Sanctioned Homeless Camp

Posted By on Sat, Dec 12, 2015 at 12:01 PM

click to enlarge Trash waiting to be picked up by the city the day before the PalCo Marsh camp's designated clean up day. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Trash waiting to be picked up by the city the day before the PalCo Marsh camp's designated clean up day.
The Eureka City Council agenda for Tues. Dec. 15 went out yesterday replete with a vintage item: discussing the feasibility of a temporary sanctioned homeless camp. Within an hour, it was yoinked back via an emailed retraction, with the note that the item would be back on the table at the Jan. 5 meeting, when all city council members will be present to discuss it. Councilmember Melinda Ciarabellini was not available for next week's meeting.

According to City Manager Greg Sparks, the city is responding to concerns by councilmembers and citizens about the environmental impact of homeless camps on city-owned property, in particular the PalCo Marsh behind the Bayshore Mall, sometimes referred to as "The Devil's Playground." The city plans to begin work on trail construction in this area in the spring.

According to Sparks, a tentative site has been identified, a city-owned parking lot at the foot of Washington Street, next to the county's welfare office. Sparks said the "hard surface" made it a good location for erecting tents. The city will not, however, be investing in frills such as fencing.

"We view it as temporary, said Sparks. "There will be Portapotties. We wanted to make sure this wasn’t just providing a new place to camp. Ideally, people will come there as part of referral process, and a third party will manage it, not the city."

Sparks added that January's meeting will give the council opportunity to offer feedback on the possibility of a sanctioned camp, and that it's actual implementation might be a long way off. 

"It's not going to happen the next week," he said.

Eureka Police Department Chief Andy Mills said the concept is a welcome one for his department.

"It will be nice to say with authority, 'You can stay here,' at a location that’s determined. I think this will winnow out those who truly want to find help," he said, adding that the EPD's most recent approach toward PalCo Marsh campers, compressing them into a smaller area just north of the Bayshore Mall's parking lot, has been a successful endeavor in terms of reducing crime among the campers.

Last June, there was an apparent division of philosophies with city officials in terms of the feasibility of a temporary sanctioned camp, with Sparks saying the plan had been "de-prioritized" and Mills saying it was still an active item.

Meanwhile, those living in the marsh have been weathering some of the worst storms in years. Advocacy group Friends of the Marsh reports that many people are doubling up in shelters as some people's tents have been blown over by the wind.

At this week's free Friday lunch, a cluster of people gathered as Friends of the Marsh served food, handed out medical supplies and warm, dry clothes. Volunteer Erin Powers-Taylor said those whose tents had been blown over by the wind had "just let the city take their tents," because they were unsalvageable. Powers-Taylor was referring to the city's practice of removing building materials or abandoned camps and litter on a weekly basis. She and some others feel the city's crews are indiscriminate in what they take. 

Councilmember Kim Bergel was also at the weekly lunch, serving platefuls of hot food. She said she looks forward to reopening the discussion. A housing analysis, originally due to be presented by research group Focus Strategies in October, has been pushed forward to January as well, and will be presented to the public Jan. 26. Bergel said the extreme winter weather had been having an extreme impact on the men, women and children living rough in Humboldt County.

"It's this time of the year, I wake up in the middle of the night and think about them out there," she said.

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