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Sheltering from the storm: Efforts underway to find new shelter locations; donations sought

Supplies needed as cold, wet season begins in Humboldt County

By Will Houston, whouston@times-standard.com, @Will_S_Houston on Twitter

Monday, November 27, 2017

Private and faith-based groups are set to continue offering shelter as the cold and rainy season continues and are seeking the public’s help. But there is also an effort underway by the county to find a location for a longer-term winter shelter in Eureka, according to Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition board member Don Smullin.

“When the shelter opens, then the mental health services will be there and medical services and social workers,” Smullin said about the proposed shelter. “But the challenge is finding a place.”

Smullin said the extra shelter is needed as evidenced by the many people sleeping on the streets.

This reporter contacted the Department of Health and Human Services for further information, but no one was available for comment by Tuesday afternoon.

Second District Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell confirmed that she received a memo from the department’s Director Connie Beck that they are searching for location for an emergency shelter.

Seeking shelter

Emergency weather shelters coordinate closely with the National Weather Service Eureka, which sends out alerts to shelter operators and other officials once the forecast shows a potential safety risk.

National Weather Service Eureka meteorologist Sten Tjaden said they send out three different alerts: one for the McKinleyville area, one for the Eureka area and one for southern Humboldt County. The alerts are sent out when temperatures reach the low-30s and for factors in other conditions such as rain and wind speed, according to NWS Eureka meteorologist Jonathan Garner.

With the last water year being the third rainiest on record in Humboldt County, Yashi Hoffman of Redway said they had to coordinate 17 emergency shelter nights in southern Humboldt County. Sometimes the temperature forecasts didn’t pan out, he said, and other times they opened the shelters just because it had been raining three days straight and was making conditions miserable for the homeless.

Hoffman and his partner Peg Anderson are the longtime owners of Chautauqua Natural Foods in Redway and coordinate the Southern Humboldt Extreme Weather Shelter group.

Whether it be the local homeless population or travelers, Hoffman said the shelter will take them.

“We get quite a mix of people and some people have drug issues, some people have mental illness, some people are just fine and just choose to live on the street,” he said.

The shelter program had a few setbacks in recent years after the veteran’s hall in Garberville was condemned for mold and after the Community Presbyterian Church in Garberville was partially destroyed by fire earlier this year. Both had been used for shelter space in the past, he said.

The First Baptist Church of Redway is once again willing to open as a shelter, but not all of the time, according to Hoffman. Hoffman said they are scrambling to find other locations and have some potential candidates.

McKinleyville Family Resource Center Chief Operating Officer Robin Baker said they plan to continue their coordinated shelter that is led by Arcata House Partnership and faith-based groups in the Arcata area. This reporter’s attempts to contact Arcata House Partnership were not returned by Tuesday afternoon.

How to help

Eureka Rescue Mission Director Bryan Hall Sr. said they will likely have the capacity this year at their men’s and women’s shelters in Eureka to meet the shelter demand this winter, but said there is a still a need for supplies.

Specifically, Hall said they need about 30 sleeping mats, or even wrestling mats will do, in order to ensure that people have a more comfortable place to sleep.

“Otherwise we’re putting blankets on the floor and that is not comfortable,” he said.

Toilet paper is another need for the mission’s shelters.

Hall said he has heard grumblings about the mission attracting troublemakers into the Old Town area.

“There is a lot of negativity out there on the streets. We’re not part of the problem,” he said. “We’re not attracting all the homeless people. We’re helping people get on their feet and on with their lives.”

Hall said their shelter is not “just some flophouse,” and said many of the people that come to the shelter have jobs and are working on trying to better their lives.

While the winter means more supplies will be needed to handle the influx of shelter seekers, Hall said it also gives the mission an opportunity to connect with the local homeless population to see if any would like to join their drug rehabilitation and job training programs.

Down in Redway, Hoffman said they are always looking for clean sleeping bags, but also have a huge need for finding people who are willing and qualified to stay at the shelter overnight. Hoffman said they need at least two people at the shelter at a time, with one of them having to be a man because of safety concerns.

“We can find people that can bring food, find people to feed, but having someone that is qualified to spend overnight sheltering takes a real commitment from somebody,” Hoffman said.

Fennell said that the Department of Health and Human Services will be contributing some funding to the Southern Humboldt County shelters, but did not have a specific amount available on Tuesday.

Information on how to donate to the Eureka Rescue Mission can be found online at www.eurekarescuemission.org/Donate/Donate.html or by calling 707-445-3787.

For the southern Humboldt County shelters, donations can be made at the Community Credit Union of Southern Humboldt located at 757 Redwood Road in Garberville for account No. 17721-71 or at Chautauqua Natural Foods at 783 Locust St. in Garberville.

For more information on how to partner with Arcata House Partnership’s extreme weather shelter program or to donate, call 707-822-4528 or email arcatahouse3@gmail.com

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.