It's 42 degrees and a bitter, spitty rain is tapping the sidewalks. Trees bend in the wind next to the Humboldt County Library, where a couple sits under a blue tarp draped over two shopping carts. A storm front is moving in, bringing days of cold weather and winds up to 30 miles per hour. But inside the 160-year-old Victorian that was William and Sarah Carson's first home in Eureka, it is warm. A fire burns in the hearth, a small dog named P.J. wiggles with excitement as tenants come in the front door and, in a back room, a woman recovering from chemotherapy sits propped against green silk pillows on a palatial bed.
The newest resident of the Sarah Carson House did not want her name or diagnosis shared but was eager to talk about what the home meant to her. Her grandmother died in a hospital, she says, pausing to wipe her eyes. She was a caregiver to her mother, who died shortly before she herself got ill.
"I was tremendously aggrieved to get sick when I was still processing the death of my mom," she says. "I have been ill for a year. All the care homes were developing COVID-19 cases. I couldn't go home ... it was cold and dark there and I needed a caregiver."
Through chance she got connected with Mark Tari, a registered nurse and most recent owner 1521 Third St., once a bed-and-breakfast, now an ad hoc rooming house for aftercare patients who are indigent or can't stay in their own homes.
"He said to me, 'When you're well enough, you come and stay with me.'"
Which is how she joined Mark, P.J. and the other tenants in the purple and pink Victorian to recuperate while she recovered her strength.
Tari bought the house in 2019 with the intention of operating it as a vacation rental. The previous owner Samantha Summers had run a successful AirBnB there for several years, but crime and nuisance behavior issues in the immediate neighborhood led to guest complaints and a decline in business. Tari, a former monk with the Alexian Brothers, bought the house and business together, and made a success of it for several months. Then COVID-19 hit and he was unable to keep renting rooms through the travel website. His work with Resolution Care, a local palliative support program, showed him there was an unmet need in the region. People with chronic or terminal illnesses were being treated at the hospital, but once released, they often had nowhere safe to go. He says indigent patients were especially vulnerable. Many were eligible for aftercare or end-of-life care, but did not have stable living situations.
"I figured I'd be making a house payment anyway," Tari says.
One of his first guests was Markeith "Red" Perry, former owner of Red's Caribbean Cuisine in King Salmon, more recently of St. Louis, Missouri. Perry relocated back to Eureka to be closer to his daughter who lived in the area. He had been working as a roofer in St. Louis and had developed a persistent pain in his shoulder. He assumed it was an injury from his job but when over-the-counter painkillers stopped working for more than 15 minutes at a time, he went to the emergency room. In March of 2019 he was diagnosed with cancer — he had a tumor "the size of a fist." He started treatment but his living conditions made the brutal effects of chemotherapy and radiation even worse.
"I was living in my van but I didn't realize I was homeless," Perry says. He met Tari, who offered him a room. He credits the stability of having a place to stay, as well as the community he became part of at the house, as a major part of his recovery from cancer. In September of 2020 PET scans showed his tumor had shrunk to the size of a fingertip.
Perry still lives at the house, doing carpentry work and trying to get his incense business going out of the old carriage house in the back. (He is also developing a line of sauces.) He, Tari and a steady group of volunteers are restoring the house to its original glory, repairing some of the façade and applying a fresh coat of paint. Tari himself lives in a trailer to free up rooms for guests and also to reduce the potential of COVID-19 exposure to vulnerable patients. His time as a monk gave him a framework for communal living that his guests now practice, taking care of the common chores including sanitizing common areas.
Just off of the kitchen, the old smoking room where William Carson made the deals that would seal his title as a lumber baron (and bring in the fortune that would build his next home, the Carson Mansion) has been completely gutted. When renovations are done, it will be an end-of-life room for people receiving hospice care. Since many medical visits are being done remotely, Tari is looking into designing a software package that will help patients with unstable housing situations receive telehealth services.
Like most new nonprofit organizations (the Sarah Carson House became a formal 501c3 in 2020), the endeavor has suffered growing pains. Long-term funding is a persistent question. One room is being rented to a traveling doctor, who does not treat the residents. But paying rent would be a barrier to access for many who Tari wants to help. He and his son, who serves as vice president on the nonprofit's board, are drafting a business plan. Summers, the former owner of the house, is board president.
Some of the stated goals in the plan include providing individual and family support during loss, palliative and end-of-life care for the homeless, and "helping those who feel lost in the system find the right path for assistance." They also plan to continue to provide meals to the homeless. Tari says he and Perry were serving 250 hot meals a week to homeless people on their street out of the old Victorian's kitchen at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These people, they need help," Tari says. "If you can't change the world, change your little corner, right?"
To date, the Sarah Carson House has hosted just three palliative care patients but Tari hopes to expand services once the organization finds its footing. Due to California hospitality laws, current guests can only stay for three weeks at a time. His newest guest welcomes the respite. Before coming to the house, she had bounced in and out of the hospital. She hopes this time, with the opportunity to truly rest, the treatment will have a chance to take.
"This place was a godsend," she says, adjusting the pillow behind her head. "I have people around me, other survivors, that are able to help me if I need help. I feel like a really lucky person."
Linda Stansberry (she/her) is a writer and journalist who lives in Eureka. You can find more of her work at www.lindastansberry.com.