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Looking for a Home 

We'll call it Arcata House Weekend. Back-to-back benefits Friday and Saturday support the local nonprofit that has been providing housing and other services for homeless families for just short of 20 years.

On Friday, Nov. 12, Jeff DeMark begins a three-night run of his one-man-show about finding and fixing up a home, They Ate Everything But Their Boots with a special performance in Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre dedicated to Arcata House with all proceeds going to the nonprofit.

Saturday, Nov. 13, the action moves to the Arcata Theatre Lounge, where local favorites The Joyce Hough Band plays a benefit dance concert with an opening set by the multifaceted guitarist Errol Previde. Again, all proceeds go to Arcata House. 

What exactly is Arcata House? In a way the singular name is a misnomer since there are actually three houses involved. "We run transitional living projects -- TLPs they call them," said Karen "Fox" Olson who has been Arcata House executive director for 10 years. "Arcata House was started by concerned citizens from all walks of life, church members and people who felt like homeless families deserve a place to stop and regroup."

Headquarters is "the downtown house," a living space plus offices for the nonprofit built on the site of an old Eagles Hall on 11th Street. "That was torn to the ground and rebuilt in 2004 [using a design by the architect Joyce Plath].  We've been in there since, and we have two other houses," elsewhere in Arcata.

The primary residents are homeless families. Asked how many, Fox tallies them in her head, "Three, six... We have about 10 families we're helping this month. We'll help about 75 people this year -- half kids, half adults. They come to us from camping, motels, street life; sometimes we get referrals from hospitals or domestic violence services, child welfare service. It's mostly families, but we have some smaller rooms so we fill those in with single people with disabilities, then seniors who have gone homeless.

"It's a case management program so all the clients are meeting with our people, working on goals, figuring out what went wrong: How did they end up in their situation and what needs to happen to get things back on the right course?"

The key word is transitional. The housing situations are intentionally temporary, although right now Fox says it's not easy to find appropriate homes for some clients. "When I first started there was more affordable subsidized housing and it might take six or seven months for a family to save up money -- which is a component of the program -- and go through credit counseling and learn the soft living skills: working a budget, taking care of a house, being a good tenant. We had a faster turnaround, but now, I think due to the economic downturn there are more barriers to housing. People who are already in subsidized housing are not moving on, so some families stay with us nine months, 10 months. The lack of housing stock is getting to be a problem.

"The number one goal for our folks living at Arcata House is to get housed, but a lot happens around that," she continued. In some cases people who have been living on the street without healthcare need to deal with medical problems, others have no ID for themselves and/or their kids. Some moms are in the Welfare-to-Work program and must juggle childcare and transportation issues. In many ways Arcata House is as much about getting people's lives back on track as it is finding them stable living situations.

"I always tell our clients 'You're doing good when you no longer have social workers in your life. That's the goal. You're making it on your own, succeeding in life,'" said Fox.

TLP funding comes from various sources: a grant from Calif. Dept. of Housing and Community Development, grants from community banks, churches, what Fox calls, "rock-steady donors," and benefits like those this weekend. The Joyce Hough Band did one last year that paid for developing a Web site ( where you can learn about their programs or make a donation. 

"It's expensive running three houses," said Fox. "It's important to keep the homes in good shape. And we have a truck we're paying off, then there's the gas bill and so on. Sometimes we end up paying for a birthday party for an Arcata House kid or paying for someone's medicine. We always need money." Thus the benefits.

Jeff DeMark's Friday opening night benefit performance of They Ate Everything But Their Boots starts at 8 p.m. in Dell'Arte's Carlo Theatre, 131 H St., Blue Lake. (See this week's Stage Matters for details on the show.) Tickets are $15, $12 for students and seniors. Call Dell'Arte at 668-5663 or go to for reservations.

Doors open at 7 p.m. for Saturday's Joyce Hough Band/Errol Previde Arcata House Benefit at Arcata Theatre Lounge, 1036 G St. Music at 8, tickets at the door only on a sliding scale $20-$50 (or more of you can afford it).

For further information about Arcata House call 822-4528 or go to

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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