With the May 2 deadline for the estimated 180 people currently camping in the Palco Marsh to leave fast approaching, the Eureka City Council may use the much-debated Shelter Crisis Declaration, which passed in January after heated discussion and passionate public comment, to create some extra space for those in need.
The original resolution, which passed Jan. 19, did not specify any city-owned property to provide emergency shelter. However, a proposal for an amended version includes language to allow "homeless individuals" to sleep "from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. for 60 days beginning April 11, 2016 and ending on June 10, 2016" at the city-owned parking lot at Koster and Washington streets. It also authorizes city staff to enter into agreement with St. Vincent de Paul to operate a "warming center," in which an undetermined number of cots for homeless men will be put out every night for six months in the St. Vincent de Paul dining room.
Nancy Woods, who owns a business just across from the parking lot at Washington and Koster streets, says that she is frustrated that the city council has not taken her concerns into consideration.
"I don’t know how they’re going to keep it under control — right now there are homeless there all day long," she said, adding that she has had problems with homeless people sleeping in the bushes by her business and leaving debris. "This camp business is no good for anyone. I am business minded and this is not good for our businesses at all."
While the resolution set for approval Tuesday includes language rescinding the original resolution, the only significant changes appear to be the additions of these locations. The parking lot portion of the amendment allows camping temporarily, but "It does not refer to a temporary, sanctioned camp," said City Manager Greg Sparks in an email. He added that the parking lot will serve as a "relief valve where people can be directed if EPD finds someone sleeping on the porch of a business or in a city park."
Sparks did not provide details on how the camp would be regulated, but said that "monitoring would be minimal." Sparks confirmed via email that the difference between what's currently being proposed and a "sanctuary camp," in city staff's eyes, anyway, is that the current proposal wouldn't allow people to store their belongings in the parking lot during daytime hours and wouldn't provide any onsite services, like running water or bathrooms. Essentially, what city staff is proposing for the council's consideration Tuesday amounts to directing EPD not to enforce the city's no-camping ordinance in the parking lot from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the 60-day period.
While Mayor Frank Jager did call upon the city council to revisit the temporary sanctuary camp issue at the March 1 city council meeting, there has been ongoing discussion over whether establishing a sanctuary camp would stray from the city's Housing First policy, to which the council pledged support in a joint resolution with the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
The city will also discuss a motion Tuesday to approve $50,000 in Housing Successor Agency funds to
the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation for a supportive housing program that would help transition families into permanent housing. A pre-city council meeting aimed at those who have questions about the city's request for proposals will be held at 2 p.m. on April 5. The city is currently accepting proposals for third parties that would like to create a temporary sanctuary camp. Proposals are due by April 22.