No Shelter in SoHum for the Houseless as Winter Arrives
Charlie, a veteran and Southern Humboldt property owner of many years, shared his perspective on the current lack of cold weather shelters.
People are having a hard time getting a warm place to sleep…[T]hey’re getting the cold shoulder. It sounds to me like there’s some kind of epidemic of cold heartedness, like where you elevate your position in society by picking on someone that’s lower than you. So anyone that’s down on homeless people, is trying to move themselves up. I can see the excuses are that insurance people can’t insure a church if dogs are allowed inside. Someone might get bit. I hear other excuses, like, they can’t let people into a warm, dry place because they won’t stay in – you know, they want to go out to have a cigarette. I hear a lot of lame excuses of why there are no emergency cold weather shelters. I think cold is more fatal than wet. Wet’s no fun, but when the temperature gets below freezing and you don’t even have some newspapers to put over you – you could very well not make it through the night.
The Garberville Veterans Hall at 483 Conger Street is a designated Emergency Shelter but has been closed indefinitely because of dangerous amounts of black mold discovered in the building. The Humboldt County Administrative Office reported their plans for Southern Humboldt county buildings in Garberville, including the Veterans Hall, are still being reviewed.
Other than emergency space that is no longer available at the Veterans Hall, two local churches used to regularly provide winter shelters. The First Presbyterian Church in Garberville alternated shelter nights with the First Baptist Church in Redway. These churches and willing volunteers used to share space, heat, and food with those in need during the coldest times of the year.
On June 17, 2017, the First Presbyterian Church in Garberville suffered a devastating fire when a motorhome parked on the street next to the building caught fire in the middle of the night and spread directly onto the Church and its free food pantry. Although local firefighters mobilized, contained and extinguished the fire, about a third of the Church was destroyed. This winter, the rebuilding of the structure is still in progress, and the First Presbyterian cannot yet offer shelter.
In the sister city of Redway, the First Baptist Church remains standing, but cannot host a winter shelter for other reasons. David Ordonez spoke on behalf of the First Baptist and explained, “The church is still open to it; it is incorrect that they will not have a shelter anymore. The only thing we ever asked is not to be the only shelter. .. It’s a lack of volunteer help. We can’t get volunteers.. Our congregation has been very happy with the way things have worked out with the shelter and there’s no issue on our end.”
Ordonez also stated that although dogs were not allowed inside the building, the First Baptist did provide a covered deck for people and their animals. But for now, the Church Winter Shelter is closed down without adequate volunteer support.
The homeless population and their pets are feeling the descending temperatures and increasing precipitation this December. Several people living on the streets of Garberville shared their views anonymously:
A mother who currently camps near town said, “I was numb last week and didn’t know how cold I was until I reached out to pet my dog.”
One long time Southern Humboldt citizen keeps himself warm through the night with heavy insulation. He said, “I have like six sleeping bags so if I get too cold I just climb under another layer!”
One working man complained “I’m tired of trying to go to work when I smell. But I don’t even go to the shelters. It would be cool if, at least, the churches opened their doors once a week and let us take showers.”
A working woman sounded jaded when she said, “It sucks to work all week to have enough money to buy a hotel room to take a shower.”
A Redway resident, Michael, described why having a shelter would benefit local people:
It would be nice to have a homeless shelter – you know, a place to go when it’s too cold, a place to eat….When it first started raining, I had two people in my place, ‘cause they were wet and they had nowhere else to go, you know, and it was freezing cold, so I kept them warm and dry, and gave them another set of clothes. That’s the best I could do, you know…
Offering space for other citizens to be comfortable and clean can affect a great deal of their well-being. I discussed sheltering those in need with Betty Chinn, the leader of the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation. They offer shelter, support, and help finding employment to people in Eureka. Chinn explained some of the services offered to the Northern Humboldt community.
We have different tent village, and then ten by ten for people. Not just the shelter, got them some jobs, some mental help. Got them a place to sleep. Something stable. They can stay, and that really helps them, the psychological. It’s much better for them, you know. Oh, and Monday we had Open Door clinic, and Tuesday we had a citizen come in to do the Laundromat, and Wednesday we had haircuts, and we have a Library. So we have very well-cared for people. And we have sixty percent of people working within two weeks. For us, we are very minimal, very basic, even below the basic. But the people are happy. But that’s the thing, they have to feel comfortable and safe.
The Betty Kwan Chinn Day Center is open Monday through Friday at 133 7th Street in Eureka, offering free programs including a health clinic, after school care, and employment opportunities. There are also overnight beds available to families and medical patients through the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation, which can be reached at 707.407.3833.
For the citizens of Southern Humboldt, however, efforts must mobilize before disadvantaged citizens even have shelter from the weather. At this time, the First Baptist Church in Redway is waiting for one or more volunteers willing to stay up a few nights a week to supervise and protect disadvantaged citizens. If anyone wants to volunteer, the First Baptist Church of Redway can found on Facebook, or call (707) 923-3225.