For the third consecutive day, the National Weather Service has issued an emergency weather shelter alert as the overnight forecast is a low temperature of 33 degrees with a wind chill of 29 degrees.
That means it will be very cold and very uncomfortable for those who have no place to stay and for those in need, it can be very difficult to find a place to stay when the weather turns ugly.
“My understanding is that Southern Humboldt is not doing an emergency shelter this year,” said Nezzie Wade, founding member of Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives. “Churches in Arcata normally provide options and I learned yesterday the Arcata Housing Partnership has a new volunteer to coordinate and contact churches but that’s just started this week, I think.”
Wade said there can be significant barriers to finding a place to stay but when it comes to the extreme weather it can be difficult for those with no place to go.
“The way it works is a shelter has to have staff on site 24 hours and that can be difficult for organizations,” she said. “There can be rules against sleeping with a partner, no pets, no drugs or alcohol that can make it hard. Let me tell you, when you’re in Southern Humboldt and it’s 32 degrees, it’s a lot colder if you’re out there in the elements.”
There is one place that has been serving the homeless community and providing emergency shelter for years and that’s the Eureka Rescue Mission. The Mission provides both a day-use area where people can stay during the day and an emergency shelter when the weather turns cold.
For Bryan Hall at the Eureka Rescue Mission, all he sees are people who need help.
“I see the needle litter, I see the drug use and drinking and I also see that there is a living, breathing human being there regardless of their behavior and we need to deal with them, period,” he said. “If you can behave yourself, you can have a meal and go to sleep and we will bring them in. They can use the day use area during the day and sleep overnight.”
One issue the Rescue Mission is facing is an ongoing renovation that has meant the cafeteria has been turned into a dorm with people sleeping on the floor. Hall said they can make room for 64 men with room for 40 or so women and children, who can be housed at the women’s shelter on Third Street. The mission has also received a donation of 30 cots that will be set up in the day-use area when needed to expand the number of beds available.
“This is an issue of survival and comes down to life-threatening temperatures, so you better have yourself wrapped up if you’re staying outside,” Hall said. “The reason there is frost on the ground is because there is moisture in the air and when that seeps into your clothing, you get colder. We just had someone drop off cots and we will use those.”
In addition to the donated cots, the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services provided 30 mattresses for the beds and it’s that sort of community help that keeps the shelter up and running. It’s a much-needed service.
“I don’t think Byran has had to turn anybody away but if we got to the point where he did have to, if they were to see overflow capacity, I don’t know what we would do,” said Charlotte McDonald, executive director of Eureka Main Street. “We would have to reach out to the city for some help and maybe shelter people in a city building. We are so fortunate to have the Rescue Mission.”
For Hall, the onset of winter and the cold weather that comes with it is nothing new. Providing a warm space for someone who needs it overnight is a battle he’s been fighting for years and he’s not going to stop now. He also said it might be time for local governments to take more steps to provide the necessary space.
“We’re going to win, we win every year and we’re not going to stop working,” Hall said and added that the issue can be addressed by simply opening a city facility. “Open up the Muni, open up a big city property and bring people in. Let them sleep overnight and in the morning get them up and out. It’s not that hard. It’s not that hard to care for people.”
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.