From Time to Time An achieve­ment to cel­e­brate in this time of pan­demic

Times Standard (Eureka) - - OPINION - Eric Duff The Rev. Eric Duff is an Epis­co­pal Priest and li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker. He can be reached at er­ictd6017@

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.

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