No Homeless People in Southern Humboldt?


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The Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition has sent out a press release with information about the most recent Point in Time Count, which took place in late February. The press release charts a general decrease in homeless people tallied across the county, dipping from 1,180 to 618 in t
A notice posted near a homeless camp on U.S. Highway 101 near Garberville telling people to be out by Feb. 27, the date of the Point in Time Count. - DEBRA CAREY
  • Debra Carey
  • A notice posted near a homeless camp on U.S. Highway 101 near Garberville telling people to be out by Feb. 27, the date of the Point in Time Count.
he last two years, a drop of around 40 percent. Homeless residents in communities from Garberville to Willow Creek were interviewed by volunteers on one day, Feb. 27, in an attempt to document  "the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people on a single night during the winter."

But the accuracy of the count is a matter of debate. According to the press release itself, it is "not a scientific survey" and a dearth of volunteers for the count may have contributed to lower numbers.

Sally Hewitt, chair of the HHHC, told the Journal that the count got off to a rough start when the original proposed methodology — counting folks in the early morning — was turned down by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (The count is a HUD requirement.) HUD told HHHC that if they just wanted to get a pure head count, it would have to be done as folks bedded down at night, between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., a methodology Hewitt said was impractical in the land of "Bigfoot and marijuana grows."

So instead, volunteers visited camps and other areas where homeless folks stay during the day with a more complicated survey system that due to timing, the small number of volunteers and the length of the survey, may have counted fewer people than are truly living outdoors in Humboldt County.

But some homeless advocates, including Nezzie Wade of Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives, and Debra Carey, who works with the homeless population in Southern Humboldt, see other mechanisms at work.

Wade, who sent the Journal a rough draft of the HHHC's full report, says the total is a "ridiculous number." She and Carey both allege that law enforcement agencies stepped up enforcement on homeless encampments immediately prior to the count. The Journal reached out to the Eureka Police Department and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office for statements on this claim. EPD Chief Andrew Mills denied it, saying "it is to EPD's benefit to get an accurate count of the homeless." The HCSO did not respond to email from the Journal by the end of the day, but according to Christine Messinger of the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Sheriff William Honsal has also denied this charge.

Neither Wade nor Carey could explain why it would make sense to artificially deflate the numbers. Hewitt said this rumor has dogged previous PIT Counts as well and, contrary to perception, the numbers generated do not determine funding for future services.

The numbers from the report, which are, it should be noted, very preliminary and may be refined before a final draft is released later this year, do seem very low. Volunteers counted 206 people sleeping unsheltered in Eureka on the night of the count, 78 in Arcata, 23 in Fortuna, 19 in McKinleyville and Trinidad, 19 in the East County and zero in the Garberville/Redway area. All of these numbers are a sharp decrease from the 2015 count with Eureka's being the most extreme, dropping from 513 to 206. Garberville/Redway residents, who complain regularly on social media about people taking up sidewalk space and living rough in the bushes or along the river bar, might take exception to the analysis that there are no homeless folks in their region.

Carey, who says in the past she has given herself "shin splints" counting people in the SoHum region, says the nonexistent numbers are due to her unwillingness to volunteer this year. Having worked closely with the population in the past, she has conducted many past surveys. She also said there weren't enough preliminary planning meetings prior to this year's count.

Carey also accused law enforcement officers and Caltrans of purposefully disrupting homeless communities just before the count and forwarded the Journal a notice posted near U.S. Highway 101 telling people at an entrenched camp to be out by Feb. 27, the date of the PIT Count.

Reached for comment, Caltrans spokesperson Myles Cochrane denied any intentional disruption of the camps, saying the notices were posted in the interest of public safety prior to the agency doing routine work.

"Any time we have illegal camping along our right of way we have to follow protocol and address the situation in the interest of public safety," said Cochrane. "Of course [we] are allied with [California Highway Patrol], as they are tasked with the law enforcement side of clearing up illegal camp sites on state property. The last thing we’d want is for someone to get hurt or worse because they’re spending time in an area where collisions could occur or where living conditions are bad enough to impact personal and environmental health. So we follow our policy, which is to give three days notice, and then we work with CHP and other agencies to carry out the cleanup of illegal campsites."

From the Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition:

The 2017 homeless preliminary Point-in-Time (PIT) count data is available,
showing a total of 668 people in Humboldt County experienced homelessness on
the night of Feb. 27, compared to 1,180 counted in 2015.

The biennial PIT count, conducted by the Humboldt Housing and Homeless
Coalition (HHHC) and local volunteers, documents the number of sheltered and
unsheltered homeless people on a single night during the winter.
The count is a HUD requirement. Information gathered during this count is used
by local planning departments and by county nonprofit agencies in grant
applications and planning.

More than 15 agencies and 80 trained volunteers assisted in this year’s PIT count
which showed Eureka having the largest homeless population in Humboldt
County, followed by Arcata.

Sally Hewitt, HHHC co-chair and Humboldt County Department of Health &
Human Services senior program manager, said the volunteers and assistance
from community partners contributed to the count’s success. “We had homeless
volunteers help with planning and counting.”

While the count provides important information about the local homeless
population, it is not a scientific survey. The number of people counted each year
is to some extent dependent on the number of volunteers available to do the
counting. There were fewer volunteers this year, which could in part account for
the lower number of homeless people counted.

Still, it seems likely that some of the rehousing efforts in the past year are
having an impact, including the 30-60 Housing First campaign, CalWORKs
Housing Assistance Program, Betty Chinn’s efforts, and accommodations made
by local landlords in our communities.

The count takes place in communities across the U.S. on a single night in
January. This year Humboldt County received a waiver from the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that allowed the count to be
conducted in February.

Starting the morning of Feb. 28, and going through the week, volunteers
connected with homeless people throughout the county to administer voluntary
surveys with questions about age, physical and mental health status and where
they had slept on the designated night.

For the purposes of PIT counts, people experiencing unsheltered homelessness
are defined by HUD as individuals or families with “a primary nighttime residence
that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular
sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned
building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground.”

People experiencing sheltered homelessness are defined as individuals or families
“living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide
temporary living arrangement (including congregate shelters, transitional
housing, and hotels and motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal,
state, or local government programs for low-income individuals).”

The 2017 PIT Count committee included representatives from the North Coast
Veterans Resource Center, Arcata House Partnership, Humboldt County
Department of Health & Human Services, Alcohol Drug Care Services, Inc. and
Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives. The count was funded in part by a
grant from the Smullin Foundation.

“Local businesses helped out, especially North Coast Co-op who once again
donated 50 pounds of excellent coffee, and thanks to the Smullin Foundation for
its monetary donation,” Hewitt said.

The HHHC is still in the process of analyzing the data and comparing it to
previous years and will post a final report to its website upon completion.
The HHHC is a coalition of housing advocates, businesses, funders, elected
officials, service and housing providers, faith-based organizations and other
community stakeholders working together to identify and address local housing
needs. In Humboldt County, the HCCC is the lead organization for homeless
issues and the federally designated Continuum of Care. For more information
about the HHHC, visit its website at


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