The Humboldt County Human Rights Commission held its second community conversation of the year at the Redwood Playhouse in Garberville on Sunday afternoon, broadcast live by KMUD Redwood Community Radio.
Community members, both housed and houseless, took turns addressing members of the commission board and the audience about problems they’ve faced and possible solutions. The majority of the comments during the two-hour forum focused on the neighborhood watch group Locals on Patrol, the local population of houseless people and media coverage of the ongoing dispute between houseless and housed people in the community.
One of the first people to speak was a homeless man that has been living in the Garberville area for 12 years. He alleged that Locals on Patrol stole private property from homeless Southern Humboldt County residents and that business and homeowners in downtown Garberville were responsible for assaults against homeless people. He added that this is how the community has treated homeless people since he moved there but things have gotten worse over the past year.
“Our civil liberties are being violated every day,” the man said.
The man advocated having a shelter emergency declared, hiring homeless people and leaving them be, and opposed the appointment of Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Ken Swithenbank as the sheriff’s office homeless liaison.
“We’re ready to create a village, a permaculture sustainable village,” the man said about creating a place homeless people could call home.
Commission board member Richard Leamon said he would relay those ideas to Humboldt County Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell.
“From what I’m hearing, that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” Commission board member Larry Miller said about what homeless people are experiencing.
He then outlined how filing reports with the sheriff’s office about incidents of violence or theft can be helpful.
“If we could have 1,800 complaints we could flood the system,” Miller said, adding that could spur real change.
Commission board member Chris Weston then asked what a homeless sanctuary community could look like and where it would be.
“We need to be a welcoming community and I mean that from the heart,” he said.
Debra Carey then brought up how the SoHum communities used to be policed by citizens but recently got more law enforcement coverage so groups like Locals on Patrol should no longer be needed.
“We are allowing civilians to police them and that is vigilantism,” she said.
Later during the forum, commission board member Lelehnia Dubois stressed the importance of discussion such as this because a solution is needed that is acceptable to both homeless people and home and business owners.
“I very much appreciate that this is locally a very large conversation,” she said.
A McLean Foundation grant made the event possible. Similar forums will be held into late spring.
The humboldt County Human Rights Commission meets monthly. The next meeting will be March 2 from 5 to 7 p.m. in room 1A of the Humboldt County Courthouse at 825 5th St., Eureka. People can file complaints with the commission by calling 707-268-2548 or toll free at 1-866-809-4373.
More information about the group is available at humboldtgov.org/1308/Human-Rights-Commission.
Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.