The shipping container village at the corner of Commercial and Third streets may soon find itself on the move.
The Eureka City Council voted unanimously yesterday to approve a new location and provide $75,000 in funding for the shipping container shelter project for the homeless.
After hours of discussion and public comment, the council voted to relocate the project that currently shelters about 40 people in a vacant lot on the corner of Third and Commercial streets to a city-owned lot at Koster and Washington streets. The new location will be in place for a year, pending the California Coastal Commission’s emergency approval and the city’s following through with a local coastal plan amendment in the coming months.
Betty Chinn and Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights teamed up under the banner the Greater Eureka Community Outreach Project as the city of Eureka was clearing the Palco Marsh of a homeless encampment containing some 200 people. They converted shipping containers into small shelters to house about 40 people and designed programming to help them transition into permanent housing. Most agree the project has been successful in helping homeless people transition into housing and employment.
City staff had identified a handful of potential sites for the project’s relocation, but GECOP deemed only two workable: the Koster and Washington lot and a property on Marina Way, south of the Wharfinger Building, which it deemed the “unequivocally preferred site.”
The Coastal Commission, however, didn’t feel that site was appropriate and was unlikely to approve it, according to city staff.
GECOP President and HumCPR Co-founder Lee Ulansey urged the council to approve the Marina Way site anyway. “If the Coastal Commission is interested in putting 40 people out on the street, we’d be happy to discuss that with them and see about changing their minds,” he said.
Ultimately, however, that wasn’t a fight the council wanted to pick. Before their vote, councilmembers heard from dozens of people during public comment who offered a wide array of views on the project and potential locations. Among them were several members of Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives, a nonprofit that has long pushed for the creation of a tiny house village or sanctioned campground. They alternately voiced support for the project, questioned why the city was leasing GECOP land for the project when AHHA’s proposals haven’t gained traction and urged the council to approve a range of “residential camping alternatives.
With the $75,000 pledged by the city, GECOP is about halfway to the goal it says will fund the project’s operating costs for a year. Ulansey said GECOP continues to explore funding opportunities through the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services and private donors.
The container village is slated to move Nov. 1. Watch a full video of the meeting embedded below, and scroll down to see the original post with more information.
The Eureka City Council will meet in a special session Tuesday to decide whether to give the shipping container shelter project for the homeless $75,000 in funding and a new space to operate for a year.
The project — a joint effort of Betty Chinn and the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights that’s come to be known as Blue Angel Village — launched as the city of Eureka was preparing to clear the Palco Marsh of a homeless encampment inhabited by as many as 200 people. Located at the corner of Commercial and Third streets in Eureka, the project was billed as a temporary shelter to house up to 40 people and, in the face of an outcry from neighboring business and property owners, Chinn and others involved with the project pledged that it wouldn’t be located in the vacant Mercer-Fraser Co. parking lot for more than six months.
That six-month window is coming to a close Nov. 2 and, encouraged by the project’s marked success, the fledgling project’s board of directors — which comprises the HumCPR board as well as that of Chinn’s foundation and is known as the Greater Eureka Community Community Outreach Project (GECOP) — wants to keep it going. As we noted in our Sept. 15 cover story “Prove them Wrong,” at that time the project had welcomed in a total of 79 people off the streets; 43 percent had gone on to move into housing and 42 percent had found jobs.
That success, coupled with promises given to neighboring business owners, has left GECOP scrambling to find other potential sites. A couple board members even combined private funds to recently make an offer on a vacant lot within city limits only to be outbid.
City staff, meanwhile, identified and vetted a total of 10 potential new sites for the project and ultimately whittled it down to four: the lot at the foot of T Street, the Samoa airstrip, the parking lot at Koster and Washington streets and a property on Marina Way south of the Wharfinger Building. But, in a letter to the city, GECOP is saying only two of those would work: Marina Way, which the board unanimously deemed the “unequivocally preferred site,” and the Koster and Washington lot, which would be acceptable provided all neighboring businesses endorse the relocation in writing.
GECOP and the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, which has provided assistance that’s been integral to the success of the project, both feel the Samoa site is too remote, and would in effect strand clients on the project site and sap staff time driving back and forth. It’s not immediately clear from the city’s staff report why GECOP wasn’t amenable to the property at the foot of T Street, though the report notes it is close to areas historically used for encampments and removed from services.
If the council settles on a location Tuesday, it will then discuss whether to allocate $75,000 from the city’s housing successor funds — which currently carry a balance of approximately $350,000, according to City Manager Greg Sparks — to fund the project. HumCPR co-founder Lee Ulansey told the Journal previously that it would cost about $150,000 to staff and run the village for a year. It’s currently unclear if the project will seek or secure funding from other sources as well.