By Jack Durham
Although it’s hard to pin down the exact number, there are dozens of homeless people who live in McKinleyville. They huddle each night in hidden locations scattered about town. Some camp in the brush off Hiller Road and Railroad Drive. Others find refuge near Hiller Park, or in the hills east of town.
It can be a brutal existence. When the weather becomes extreme, it can be deadly.
With this in mind, a group of local pastors, agencies and community members are working together to create an extreme weather shelter, which would provide safe haven for the homeless during nights when the temperature becomes extremely low, there are heavy rains or high winds.
Hillarie Beyer of the McKinleyville Family Resource Center on Hiller Road explained the idea to the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 30.
“This has never been done in McKinleyville, but it’s been done in Eureka,” Beyer told the McKMAC.
When extreme weather is forecasts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will send an alert to the McKinleyville Family Resource Center by noon that day. The resource center will then activite the emergency shelter.
Homeless people who want to use the shelter will first check in at the Resource Center, where they will get a hot shower, clean clothes and a simple meal, like soup. The center, Beyer said, may utilize a portable shower at its Hiller Road location.
The people will then be sent to either the Grace Good Shepherd Church, located next door to the Resource Center on Hiller Road, or the Church of the Joyful Healer on Central Avenue. They would be provided with cots and blankets for sleeping.
Each church would have a staff person who would stay up all night and supervise the shelter. In the morning, the homeless people would be transported back to the Resource Center.
It’s difficult to predict how many people will be served by the program. Beyer said that last summer there were an estimated 80 homeless people in Northern Humboldt area from McKinleyville to Orick. Not all of them live in McKinleyville, and some wouldn’t want to use the shelter.
Also, families with children can be lodged at the Rescue Mission in Eureka. The extreme weather shelter would be reserved for adults who agree to abide by basic rules of conduct.
“I anticipate 10 to 12 people” to use the shelter each night it opens, Beyer said. There are about 20 extreme weather days each year.
One question that came up at last week’s McKMAC meeting is how the homeless would know about the shelter.
Beyer said various service providers will know about the extreme shelter and inform the homeless and the public. Sheriff’s deputies, who often have contact with the homeless, can help spread the word, along with local food banks and social workers. Members of the public who come into contact with the homeless can also let them know about the shelter.
“It’s amazing how fast word travels,” she said.
According to a press release by Beyer “The group is still in the planning stages but expects to open the shelter when the weather is predicted to meet pre-set shelter criteria. At that time, notices would be posted throughout the community directing people to the Family Resource Center for screening.”
The press release continues “The shelter plan is being developed by a project team consisting of Beyer, pastors from the McKinleyville churches including Bob Mason, 7th Day Adventist Church; Neil Montgomery, New Heart Community Church; Steve Lundin, United Methodist Church of the Joyful Healer; Javan Reid, Grace Good Sheph erd Church; Mike Cloney, Christ the King Parish, as well as Maile Cortez from Church on the Rock, County Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, businessman Mark Rynearson, Jason Sehon of the McKinleyville Services District and others. Lynette Mullen, who helped to coordinate the Eureka Extreme Weather Shelter through the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office last winter, is helping to manage the project. Humboldt Area Foundation, as part of the Northcoast Grantmaker’s Partnership, has provided $4,000 as a planning grant for the project.”