authored by Chad Kemp
Since winter started, people have died in Eureka because of the cold. Well, that’s not what the coroner’s office has documented, but that is the word on the street. The temperature is what killed them, but insensitive policies might be more culpable than the winter weather. Upon walking into the Rescue Mission in Eureka, one has a breathalyzer inserted into their mouth to determine whether or not they will be allowed to have a cooked meal, bathe, and sleep inside for the night. If one doesn’t pass, then they are cast out into harsh conditions.
When alcohol is consumed and makes its way into one’s bloodstream it usually gives a sensation of warmth. This is deceptive, because alcohol causes blood to thin and increases blood flow near the skin. This means that blood which is flowing near the skin will be rapidly affected by the cold,which then inhibits one’s body from maintaining homeostasis. This causes the human body to loose its ability to sustain a living temperature, which increases one’s susceptibility to hypothermia.
This is relevant when one is denied access to shelter for having a drink and is forced, out of bodily necessity, to sleep underneath a building, in the woods, or out in a field. When one sleeps outside in Eureka they have to be concerned about the Eureka Police Department harassing them throughout the night. This tends to happen either through selective enforcement or violence.
By selective enforcement, an officer giving one a citation for illegal “camping”, which one probably can’t afford later, and which may become an active warrant. Or sometimes selective enforcement takes shape in other ways. In Eureka and Arcata people are commonly profiled for looking poor and arbitrarily searched for drugs without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Sometimes people who are profiled as being on the street are detained for no decent reason. For instance, a kid that I befriended while I was living at the Arcata Night Shelter showed me a detainment certificate one morning that he was given two days prior. When I asked him why he was detained, he told me that he didn’t know. Apparently, when he was walking down the street in Arcata, minding his business, a cop car rolled up, put him in handcuffs, and forced him into the back of the car. He was never told specifically why he was detained, the most that was told to him was that he looked like he was about to do something suspicious.
By violence, having your tent, tarps, or temporary shelter intruded upon, ransacked, and destroyed. Your belongings will be rendered unsalvageable and thrown into a locked dumpster. After being criminalized and dehumanized, there are few material possessions left to stay dry and warm which leaves one hoping they don’t die of hypothermia. Or sometimes violence takes shape in other ways. My friend “star gazer”, who I met during my stay at the Arcata Night Shelter, was lifted off of the sidewalk and thrown onto the concrete after she refused to communicate with cops who were asking her why she had blood on her forehead. She was unconcerned, minding her own business, and did not have any obligation to talk to the cops. They detained her and towed the car that she was living in which was parked at the end of the street. Because of this, she had nowhere to go after her car was impounded. Because she had nowhere safe to go after this happened, and because she was alone, she got taken advantage of one night and ended up getting raped. This would have never happened if her car was not impounded for no decent reason.
Houseless people continue to die and unnecessarily suffer. This is because they are denied access to shelter for drinking; because their possessions are looted and trashed; because of the callousness of John Shelter behind New Directions; because of the policies and the people at the Eureka Rescue Mission; because of the current policies, the lack of policies, and the lolly-pop lady at the Arcata Night Shelter; and because of the sick brutality of the Eureka Police Department.
New Directions claims to be an organization which stewards the environment by “cleaning up” trash left behind from people sleeping outside as well as “cleaning up” encampments themselves. New Directions also prides itself in giving houseless people opportunities to give their life a “new direction” by paying them to “clean up trash” and by providing them with temporary living quarters. This facade sounds endearing, but the reality is that “cleaning up” usually takes the form of abusive behavior that has included stealing people’s tarps, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and personal belongings and throwing them into a locked dumpster so they can not be retrieved later. John Shelter is the man behind New Directions who started the agency, organizes the policies, and recruits new people to work for him. Prior to starting New Directions, he was the manager at the Arcata Service Center. Having been in these positions, one would hope that he would be considerate and respectful towards people who live outside. But, people who have collaborated with him seem to think otherwise. Kathy Anderson was the coordinator at the Arcata Endeavor from 1988 to 1995 which mainly operated to provide food to hungry people. She was also the director at the Arcata House for a period of time which mainly operated to provide transitional living for people. Kathy has conviction that one is entitled to live their life in any way that one is inspired to do so, and she does not rely on a “middle class standard” as a means to gauge how she should relate to other people. She had the opportunity to work alongside John Shelter as well as participate in community meetings with him. As a result of having relations with the same people, Kathy was able to observe how John Shelter relates to people who live outside or are in low income situations. She described him as not being for the people, as being completely loyal to his sources of funding at the expense of people’s livelihoods, and as being driven by a conquest for power, an attitude of self-importance, and the desire for prestige. While working at the Arcata Service Center he consistently exercised biases against people who drank alcohol or who he found a reason not to like. This discrimination took place through denying these people services such as food, when the only qualification to get food should be whether or not one is hungry. In short, his personal prejudices inhibited people from receiving services when they were in need of services. During the 5 years that Kathy Anderson ran the Endeavor she never had to call the police to resolve disputes among guests. According to her coworker, Verbena, she managed the Endeavor with integrity and respect. She worked with people by “having a program that fit the needs of the people rather than people fitting the needs of the program.” But, when the Arcata Endeavor began to accept federal funding in the form of block grants, and later when John Shelter came into the scene, things began to seriously change. Having worked at the Arcata Endeavor for three and a half years, Verbena witnessed these changes as they began to take place. John Shelter quickly garnered a reputation for relying heavily on police presence to run things. The cops began to come through the Service Center on a day-to-day basis to run warrant checks on people who were trying to get a meal or clean up. The programs became rigidly structured. Everything became computerized and every person who wanted to use services was documented into an electronic database. As the director of the Arcata Service Center, John Shelter began to determine who could be at the Service Center, how people had to behave, he would be inquisitive and intrusive about whether or not people were on drugs or alcohol, he antagonized people, and he consistently called the cops on people for suspecting their behavior to be caused by mental illness or the influence of intoxicants. This disrespectful mentality that the management pushed towards guests was indicative of internalized biases against houseless people and low income people. This lack of respect encouraged guests to have a lack of respect towards the management. The social relations continued to worsen between guests and management, and the Arcata Service Center gradually fell apart. John Shelter continues to operate within this framework of prejudice and discrimination through New Directions. John Shelter’s sick mentality continues to reveal itself through his current actions towards houseless people. These actions include his on-going collaboration with the Eureka Police Department. When New Directions is not merely picking up litter outside of the Bayshore Mall or cleaning up after an event, John Shelter and his co-opted recruits prowl around Eureka looking for tent or tarp situations to dismantle. After an outdoors living situation is scoped out, then the New Directions’ crew will contact the cops if the person is at the site. Depending on the situation, the police may detain and arrest the person who is staying at the site. Otherwise, people are issued a citation rather than being cuffed and taken away. But, what past instances have shown to be constant is that the New Directions’ crew will raid one’s tent or tarps, loot all of their belongings, destroy all of their belongings, and then throw them into a locked dumpster. As someone who works with youth who live outside, I regularly come into contact with people who have some sort of relations with the agency. Earlier this week, a kid who works for New Directions, came into my work to use services. I asked him about the agency and how “camps” are handled and he was pretty forward spoken about the procedure. He straight up described instances in which he has gone out with the rest of the crew to locate places where people camp out. On occasion, he said, the cops handcuff the person who is sleeping outside for “camping”, and then after this person is taken away, New Directions will raid and destroy their possessions at the site.
The Eureka Rescue Mission has a questionable reputation amongst many people who have stayed there, and is loaded with a lot of terrible associations for a lot of people who have spent time there. From personal experience, I would rather sleep outside behind a building rather than going back to the Mission for provisions. I associate the Mission with a man that I met there one night when I was eating dinner. I was new in town and did not really know my way around. It was my first time eating dinner there, and he offered to take me to a better spot to stay for the night after I finished eating, and I went along with it because he came across like a decent person, and because the Mission is incredibly dispiriting. He even said that he did not want to ask me for anything. He told me that it was rare to have someone want to help you without expecting anything in return. We walked across town, stayed at the devil’s playground, and then he molested me. It is difficult to communicate the sensation of powerlessness and helplessness over myself within the situation and within the dynamic with him. I felt sexually violated and like my dignity was completely compromised. I was pretty clueless as to where else I could go, or what to do, or how to handle the situation. It was like I did not take myself to be capable of somehow leaving the situation. We were sleeping in one of the abandoned chambers where timber used to be stacked. He was able to pick up on me being queer, but tried to suggest that I was “like him” through subliminal questions and provoking mind-games inside of my head. He was wearing an ankle brace, I think that he had raped other people before. He tried to create a complex inside of me. I think that it was my second day in Eureka. I am much more familiar with how to handle situations like this now, especially how to handle situations with older men who have special interest. Anyways, that is what comes to mind when I think of the Rescue Mission, and I have consistently heard sleazy memories being elicited with the mention of that place. My friend Jimmy told me about an experience that he had with the Mission. He had one beer earlier in the day, went to the Mission later in the evening to eat and rest, and was then denied access because the light in the breathalyzer falsely indicated that he was intoxicated. One should not be denied access to food and shelter for being under the influence of alcohol. There are many people on the street who have a physical dependency on alcohol. Because of this addiction, they are not able to actively get around, communicate, and do things if they are forced to suddenly stop all alcohol consumption. When one is going through withdrawal from alcohol, and the body is detoxing itself, one is increasingly dysfunctional if they do not have lesser amounts of alcohol to help their body and mind work through the dependency. A girl that I met on the streets in Portland comes to mind. If she did not have a beer by mid-morning, then she would be overwhelmed with nausea, she told me that she can’t stop herself from throwing up when this happens. It is not fair, decent, or reasonable to expect guests at a shelter to immediately conform to a standard of sobriety that they may not be physically or psychologically capable of meeting because of their past levels of alcohol use and because of their current dependency on alcohol to function. The Rescue Mission offers a New Life Discipleship Program, which serves as a “clean and sober” program, but it is not without conditions. Despite one’s belief system, value structure, or spiritual orientation it is required that one must complete a minimum of 600 hours of “structured bible study” by the end of the one year program. One should not have to study the Bible for 600 hours for a temporary residential situation to become sober. The side of the Rescue Mission van that drives around town states in bold lettering “ Rebuilding broken lives, one life at a time.” Similar to the prison system, the faith-based shelter system aims to subdue people into states of obedience, compliance, and powerlessness. This happens through manipulating one’s sense of self worth, compromising one’s integrity, and by convincing one that they are “in the wrong” and that they need to “change their ways.”
When I was staying there, we would refer to the Arcata Night Shelter as The Island. It is on the outskirts of Arcata and the only way that one is meant to come or go is by the van that comes to town at designated times. Most of the time the van driver is the head staff member who I will refer to as the lolly-pop lady. I only stayed at this shelter for around two months, but this was enough time to get insight into the poor decisions she made and the people that were directly affected. The first memory that I have of her was when I boarded the van one afternoon outside of the library. I did not realize that she didn’t notice me inside until she accused me of sneaking on the next morning when she was driving us back into town, told me that she was “at capacity,” and that I should try to get into the Rescue Mission in Eureka instead. I was not willing to stay at the Rescue Mission because of my past experiences and associations. I shared the news with someone who worked at the drop-in that I was going to, they told me I was being discriminated against, and were able to open up a space for me by calling and voicing that suspicion. I was then given intake and accommodations, but during my stay there I saw person-after-person turned away day-after-day. The usual excuse for rejecting people in need was that the shelter was “at capacity”, but the meaning of “capacity” was unspecific. Some afternoons when capacity was asserted, there would be no more than 15 or 16 people. Then, some evenings there would be around 20 to 25 people sharing the space with one another. Capacity was relative to the lolly-pop ladies mood at the time of pick-up. Occasionally, new faces would be allowed to come to The Island. Usually, they would be turned away, with absolutely no help or concern as to what they would do that night or where they could go instead. Not only would people in need be excluded from services, but people in need would also be sporadically kicked out for two weeks. My friend “canary” had been staying at the Night Shelter for three nights, did not have any better alternatives, and did not have any belongings other than the clothing she was wearing. One afternoon, when she was walking to the laundry room to get her bedding and a towel, a host’s son accused her of being on pills once he was out of ear-shot of anyone else. He responded to her frustration at this accusation by phoning the lolly-pop lady. She drove the van back to the shelter several hours later, picked up “canary” despite her wanting to stay, and despite there being nothing to suggest that she had consumed pills, and dropped her off that night somewhere in town. I haven’t seen her since then. A month or so later, a friend of mine was accused of stealing some tobacco from a fellow guest. Despite there being no evidence to prove that he had done this and no legitimate reason to suspect this, he was prohibited from returning to the shelter for two weeks because of this accusation. He did not have anywhere to go, and he did not have sufficient gear to be staying outside. The last time that I saw him was a few days after he had been 86′d when he dropped into my work and told me about what went down.
There needs to be alternative shelter options in Humboldt. There needs to be different policies at the current shelters in Humboldt. There should not be an imperative on sobriety at these shelters that causes people to be denied services. There needs to be enough room to accommodate every person who wants to sleep inside. People should not be denied food for arbitrary reasons. People should not be marginalized for being perceived as mentally ill. People should not be demeaned, reduced, talked down to, or dehumanized by anyone, but especially through agencies that claim to help people in need. People should not have their belongings stolen from them, destroyed, and thrown into a dumpster by agencies that claim to steward the environment. People should not be given citations for sleeping. People should not be searched without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. People should not have to endure acts of violence from the APD and the EPD. People who look poor should not be questioned, handcuffed, and apprehended for no decent reason. People who live outside should not have their lives threatened by hypothermia because they are not allowed a place to stay inside.
authored by Chad Kemp