On April 26, there were approximately 113 people living in the Palco Marsh behind the Bayshore Mall. The night of May 3, there were believed to be none, at least by official tallies.
So where'd all those people go?
The largest single group of them went to the parking lot at Third and Commercial streets, where the unlikely pairing of the Betty Kwan Chinn Foundation and the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights hurriedly put together a community of renovated shipping containers to house 40 people. The project was at capacity the night of May 2 (39 of its 40 beds were filled, with the last being held for someone arriving the following day). No place else was full.
According to Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, the Eureka Rescue Mission had 20 open beds that night, only five fewer than it had four days prior to the marsh evictions. The city-owned parking lot on Koster and Washington streets — where the city has declared it won't enforce its no-camping ordinance during nighttime hours — saw about a dozen people spend the night of May 2, up from about half that a few nights earlier.
The city of Eureka had made arrangements to put 25 cots in St. Vincent de Paul's free dining facility, expecting the Rescue Mission would reach capacity. The extra cots weren't needed.
It seems about 60 people who were sleeping in the PalCo Marsh the week prior to it being cleared were unaccounted for on May 2. Some may have entered into other living arrangements — through the Veterans Administration, the Multiple Assistance Center or elsewhere — but it seems likely that most spent the night of May 2 out in the elements.
Mills said the department did receive some camping complaints in other parts of the city, which he suspected was due to displaced marsh residents. Many of the few dozen who left the PalCo Marsh on May 2 told Journal reporters they didn't know where they would be sleeping that night.
Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said he's seen an increase in transient and homeless activity in the past couple of weeks, but said he was unsure whether that was part of a regular seasonal influx or due to the pending PalCo Marsh evictions. Fortuna Police Chief Bill Dobberstein didn't return a Journal call seeking comment.
While it's unclear exactly where the majority of former PalCo Marsh residents went, it seems the one housing option most deemed palatable was Chinn's container project, which opened 18 days after it was publicly announced. The project moved so quickly, in fact, that it saw multiple contractors volunteer their crews for weekend shifts spent painting, fencing and installing doors. And the operating and lease agreements needed to make the whole thing work weren't signed until some 12 hours before the community opened its doors on May 1 to people moving out of the marsh.
On May 2, Chinn said her plan is to bring the community's new residents along slowly, to let them sleep in, eat and get to know each other for the first week or so. Then, she said, it will be time to get them connected with case managers and vocational training to work toward whatever's next.
Meanwhile, local attorney Andrew Stunich, who threatened to sue on behalf of neighboring business and property owners if the city council moved the container project forward, has stepped back a bit. Reached last week, Stunich said he's decided not to file anything immediately and instead is taking a wait-and-see approach to the project, which he argues will have negative impacts on the surrounding community.
The afternoon of May 2, however, the lot was quiet, save for a couple of people chatting at a picnic table under a tin awning. The street out front, usually bustling with folks milling about near St. Vincent de Paul, was nearly vacant.
The only impact that afternoon seemed to be increased street traffic, as passers by repeatedly slowed to a stop to peer through the gates into the neighborhood's newest addition.
Editor's Note: This story was one in a four-article cover package. Read more at the links below.
"A Place that Absorbs Lost Souls"