From Time to Time An achievement to celebrate in this time of pandemic
We are ready for some good news. The sheer onslaught of information regarding the pandemic, and more recently the demonstrations resulting from the murder of George Floyd, have left many of us with a feeling of impending doom. However, good things can emerge, even during a crisis. Perhaps more of America is now awake to the systematic disenfranchisement and oppression of so many citizens, especially citizens of color. We can do something about this, beginning here at home. We can question our own insidious racism and add our voices to those speaking out against centuries of hatred which have resulted in the divided world we live in today.
Among those disenfranchised are the very poor, and among them are those we call the homeless. Homelessness has been an economic reality for a growing number of citizens over the last forty years. The crisis has its roots in the loss of low-income housing to development for higher income people, beginning in our inner cities and then extending outward until it reached rural communities such as our own. Our initial response was to downplay this growing reality, to convince ourselves that the problem was theirs, and that we had little or no responsibility to help. Slowly, communities across America were forced to realize that without intervention of some kind, the problem would only get worse.
The need for safe, managed campgrounds in Humboldt County emerged early in our history of dealing with the homeless as a means to address those who had no alternative but to live in their vehicles, tents, or simply rough on the streets. I have met few people who chose to live this way. In every case of homelessness, there is a story of economic collapse, sometimes, though by no means always, abetted by experiences of addiction and problems with mental health. Campgrounds are not a solution to homelessness, but they are a first step for many in the slow progress of obtaining safe, decent, affordable housing.
Today, for the first time in Humboldt County history, Arcata is host to two managed campgrounds within its city limits. This resulted through collaboration between the City of Arcata, the Arcata Police Department, the Arcata House Partnership, and Humboldt County Emergency Services. Since the beginning of April and extending to the present day, these campgrounds have been managed round-the-clock by Arcata House staff and volunteers. There are designated campsites, safely distanced, and residents agree to abide by the rules of the program. They are provided three meals a day, bathroom and shower facilities, and access to support and assistance through the Arcata House Partnership. In addition, over twenty frail and elderly homeless men and women now reside in temporary shelter at one of the area hotels. Many of them are experiencing assistance for the first time. Some are wheelchair-bound. All have benefited enormously as a result of this surprising windfall from the pandemic.
Once the crisis is over, or the funding stops, whichever comes first, many of us wonder what will happen to these individuals. Will they be forced to retreat, once again, into the woods and bushes, and left to fend for themselves without the care and support of the community? We certainly hope not. We have made a good beginning. Efforts are underway, again through staff and volunteers at the Arcata House Partnership, to help them make the transition into permanent housing. This is a long and arduous process for anyone, and certainly for those who are at the bottom of the economic spectrum. But progress is being made. Some are now on lists for affordable housing. Some are being transitioned into the Arcata House housing program itself.
However, the need for these campground and hotel accommodations will not diminish after the pandemic is over. The general economic collapse we now face will only increase the need for short-term, transitional opportunities for people who find themselves without housing. We have been too long, as a community, in facing up to this reality. We have lost decades of opportunity to give people safe alternatives to living rough on the street. There is no reason for us to go back now. We have a model, and it is working. Let us celebrate this remarkable achievement, and pledge never to return to the way things were before.