Meeting on Proposed Respite Center for the Homeless in Redway Got Hot
On Thursday, a heated debate broke out during a community meeting at the site of the proposed Respite Center in Redway. Paul Encimer, a homeless advocate, and other concerned residents propose to use a former church on Whitmore Avenue to provide food and clothing to those with low-incomes and the unhoused. And, to judge from those who showed up at the meeting, this isn’t a popular proposal.
At approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, about 20 business owners, neighbors, and community members gathered at the former St Andrews
Presbyterian Episcopalian Church to protest using the site for services to the homeless. Paul Encimer and a small group of citizens in support of the Respite Center were met with angry objections.
Business owner and nearby neighbor Patti Butler spoke out against the idea. She said, “Because people choose to live on the street, I have to pick up garbage. I have to pick up their human waste. I have a security system on my building. Now I have an electric entry door on my building because people choose to come harass me at my place of business.”
She pointed out that anit-Respite Center feeling was widespread in the community, “I am not different than anybody else on the block,” she said, “and…I am adamantly opposed to this, and I’ll make sure you do not open this.”
Recent tenants before Encimer left a wake of traumatic feelings in the area surrounding the former church. Neighbors report coping with loud fighting at all hours of the night, barking, menacing dogs and a general feeling of a “tweeker” vibe. At the meeting, some talked about having to install cameras and sensors and feeling frightened.
One neighbor worried, “The people who were squatting here are gone, and now you are going to invite them back, the very same people.”
Encimer reminded the group of the national nature of the issue, that southern Humboldt is not alone in dealing with a growing number of homeless people. He said, “This country is going down the tubes because we cannot deal with poor people.”
Butler said, “No, we are talking about right here, right now, in Redway.”
Encimer continued, “This very thing is happening everyplace. Go to any city. Go to Iowa. There’s people there having this problem.” Encimer said it was because of systemic problems. He urged the people gathered to understand. “That’s why it’s happening,” he said. “[It’s] not because I’m a bad guy trying to bring bad people to your community. It’s because the system is broken.”
He pointed out that, “It’s not a question of getting some poor bum…a place to stay; you can’t give people who work in the school district a place to stay; you can’t give people who work in the hospital a place to stay. There are no homes here, so people who work here have to live in Fortuna.”
A neighbor who had expressed a lot of safety concerns during the protest said, “You know what it is, is there’s good homeless that are unfortunate, and there’s the other ones that are drug addicted and a little crazy and quite scary. So who’s gonna make sure you’re helping the good homeless and not the bad ones who come here and they start fights with other people and they just do wrong. Who’s gonna make that decision?”
Encimer responded, “We have to give them some kind of embrace, and say ‘I wish something could happen for you.’”
Another neighbor countered, “No. The embrace comes from the County. [The homeless] can go to Garberville. They can get cash aid. They can get food stamps. They can get help with their electric bill.”
The neighbor continued, “They don’t need this place where you welcome them in during the day and lock them out at night for us to deal with. It’s not right.”
The group of protesters sought a second community meeting next Thursday, February 22 at 6 p.m. Encimer agreed.
Supervisor Fennell’s Response
Supervisor Estelle Fennell, in an interview Friday morning, said that homelessness is a bigger issue than the county can solve at this time. She said, however, that the County does have a lot of resources, and the problem of housing the homeless is being addressed though it is not solved at this time.
Fennel says she is on an ad hoc committee that may form a commission for homelessness solutions. It is possible, she said, that a trust fund can be set up from the sale of a piece of County property unsuitable for use by the homeless, but the sales revenue will support solutions as they emerge. And the proposed Commission will hear proposed solutions from community members and help to develop and guide the most promising through the system.
With regard to this proposed solution, at this proposed location, Fennel points out that she looked at the zoning map. The A-frame is zoned multi-family residential. Every surrounding property is commercial, but in an R3 zone, a day use respite center would not be a principally permitted nor a special use permit activity under its current designation.
A Look at Housing Issues in the United States:
For background, the problem of homelessness in the United States is so significant that the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has sent two envoys to the United States in the last few months to explore the issue.
The UN website cites housing as a human right under Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The website reads:
Increasingly viewed as a commodity, housing is most importantly a human right. Under international law, to be adequately housed means having secure tenure—not having to worry about being evicted or having your home or lands taken away. … The key to ensuring adequate housing is the implementation of this human right through appropriate government policy and programs, including national housing strategies.”
The most recent visit from the United Nations was by Leilani Farha, a UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, who concentrated specifically on housing issues in California. The Guardian America reported that in San Francisco, Ca there are about 7,500 homeless people. The Guardian asked Farha why she didn’t see homelessness as “a product of individual human frailty.”
According to the article, Farha responded,
If I turned to San Francisco and there were 100 people who were homeless, I might say, ‘hmm, this is probably about psychological disability, drug dependence, a history of sexual abuse in their childhood’ or something like that. I might be able to say that is is very individualized. But when you’re seeing the numbers of people who are homeless here and in every other city, you just know it’s structural.
Meanwhile, as the numbers of those who are homeless continue to climb nationwide, the challenges are difficult to grapple with at the neighborhood level where it impacts businesses and families daily. Southern Humboldt has been meeting and disagreeing about how to respond to its ever-increasing homeless population for at least a decade now.
As in other communities, some people want to provide aid and comfort to their homeless “neighbors” but many others feel that doing so encourages poorly behaving people to congregate and cause problems in an area where such help is provided.
The nation’s inability to address structural problems leading to homelessness has led to clashes of homeless advocates and neighbors concerned about the quality of their life around their homes and businesses across the Emerald counties these last few years.
Next Thursday in Redway, once again, community members from all sides of this debate will have a chance to gather and come to solutions that work for all of them.