Working on homeless issues in Arcata

By Jake Wetzstein
Flapjack Chronicle

Food not Bombs and community cohesion

Cannon Massot 19, helps cook for Food Not Bombs an autonomous grassroots movement. They offer free food in the Arcata Plaza every Sunday at 4 p.m. A separate group also feeds people in Eureka. Massot considers himself homeless and generally couch surfs.

“I stayed in an abandoned house in Eureka,” Massot said. “I stayed there for about a month and half. I was still going to high school at the time.”

His biggest concern?

“Getting to school and not getting my stuff stolen,” he said. “I got robbed once, [and another time] they lit my bed on fire.”

He used to hitchhike to his school in Arcata from Eureka. One time a man tried to drive off with Massot’s bags but his car broke down. Massot didn’t like homeless shelters like the Rescue Mission in Eureka because “it’s tweaker hill.” He aspires to be in a band one day from his ability to play a number of instruments. Massot enjoys working Food Not Bombs events because he gets to give back to the community.

Homelessness in Humboldt County afflicts about 1,500 people according to the Homeless Point-in-time Count by the Humboldt Housing Coalition. The survey was more limited this year than last year.

The Arcata government looks towards community service to care for the homeless. The city council, police, and the Humboldt State University police didn’t comment on homelessness. Arcata city councilman Alex Stillman directed questions regarding homelessness to a community service program in an email.

“Be sure to interview Fox Olson of Arcata House too. Thanks,” said Stillman.

A handful of small organizations locally help to fix the problem for the hundreds in need. Some of them follow a bureaucratic structure, while others are more libertarian.

The Raven Project

Some of the homeless youth in Humboldt County are helped through the Raven Project in Eureka. Massot even visited the Raven Project often.

Patrick Malloy a street outreach worker for the Raven Project, explained that the Raven Project offers their services to homeless youth under 22 without the bureaucracy and paperwork of other comparable homeless services.

The Raven Project is essentially a house that’s open in the afternoons and evenings where homeless youth can cook, eat, bathe, socialize and do laundry. Malloy explained that the Raven Project sends vans through town to distribute information on their services, food, first aid and hygiene supplies. The Raven Project has about 5,000 people come through its doors annually, many of them repeat visitors, according to Malloy. Many of the homeless youth know about the raven project through word of mouth on the street, in addition to outreach.

The Raven Project is funded by The Redwood Community Action Agency, a large nonprofit based in Eureka and grants from the federal government.

Programs similar to the Raven Project that get the same grants have more barriers to access because they’re not anonymous, require paperwork and have strict rules, according to Malloy.

“I think a lot of people who set policies for groups like us would be shocked at how few problems we have. This atmosphere lets [the youth] feel comfortable. In addition to drop-in and out reach, we also do Girl Space, Queer Coffee House, Art Workshop and Jam Session,” said Malloy.

Arcata House Partnership

Madalyn Stone, the lead case manager for the transitional housing program of Arcata House Partnership (AHP), has been working for Arcata House since 2008. Arcata House recently partnered with the Arcata All Faith Partnership to form AHP. They receive their funding from grants and donations. The Arcata House originates from a grant from the Rex Foundation who is affiliated with the Grateful Dead. Stone explained all the ways AHP helps the homeless community.

The AHP covers walk-in nightly shelter which has about 20 beds. 15 for men, 5 for women.

“Unfortunately we are not able to apply immediate services,” said Stone.

A screening process for the emergency shelter, allows their needs to be assessed and then to have the clients placed in the other programs.

“It’s always about [the homeless] having to do things,” said Stone. “More or less for this process of taking people from the street to living in their own private shelter, they have to want it; unless they are so mentally incapacitated, at that point there would be other agencies involved.”

Stone recalls an analogy for the AHP in dealing with potential defiant behavior of people they are serving.

“If you’re working with a first grader don’t just give the first grader first grade material, you give them something to reach for, something to grow into,” said Stone. “We often get resistance, they don’t want to do a lot of the things we are asking them, and you just kind of work with them.”

A common challenge for many homeless is avoiding addiction.

“The biggest deal-breaker for us is substance abuse,” said Stone. “Our perspective is kids don’t like parents who aren’t sober, and landlords don’t like tenants that are spending their rent on drugs or alcohol.”

They are given many chances to stop their substance abuse, and the children are considered as potential collateral damage when AHP is considering removal of a family from the transitional housing program.

A transitional housing program of AHP focuses on families. The families must have an income to be helped. This can be welfare or other comparable programs. The process starts when a family calls in to do a phone interview. They’re placed on a wait list usually for about six to nine months. Currently there are 26 people living out of four houses through AHP.

The families save half their money in a client housing account controlled solely by AHP. The families only use that money when they longer need to be assisted, it’s then given back to them. The transitional housing program is designed to help people learn to budget their limited incomes, and to receive general life skills regarding money. There is a $2,000 cap on the account if the client is on welfare, and at that point the client is supposed to move out. In the current economy however this sometimes isn’t enough, and the welfare system hasn’t adjusted for this economic change according to Stone.

Another program of AHP is Apartments First (AF). This permanent supportive housing program is designed for chronically homeless single adults who are disabled. The disability must be medically documented, typically though social security disbursement. AF then takes the individual off the street and puts them into subsidized housing where 70 percent of their rent is paid by AHP. The apartment is treated as the person’s own space, but AHP urges them to keep the apartment clean and to see doctors regularly.

Stone then explained the general socioeconomic demographics of clients.

“Clients who come in with a history of a higher income bracket, they’re better at saving their money, and they’re less likely to hand it out to others who need it. Whereas those at the lower income bracket; they have ten bucks left, somebody needs five, they’ll give it,” said Stone. “History of meth use, not graduating high school, history of early pregnancy, multi-generational poverty issues, which is something people forget about. You have three generations of doctors, you have three generations of poverty. Child abuse is huge. Mental health issues are huge.”

AHP also offers psychological counseling because mental health is such a common issue.

With such limited services available to the homeless, Stone explained the challenges for the homeless in organizing themselves.

“There’s so many different reasons why people are homeless. I think for people to be organized there needs to be some level of consensus as to what the agreed upon needs [are],” Stone said.

There’s a lot of disagreement, it’s a politically charged topic. The homeless think they can fix it.

“We’ve been called ‘poverty-pimps’, and we’ve had certain clients on the street say ‘you shouldn’t be getting the grant money, that money should go to us,” Stone said. “When in reality, when you have mental health issues, when you have addiction issues; it’s not that simple. Different agencies also disagree on how this process should move forward.”

Stone then elucidated how the homeless could help themselves.

“Generally in terms of field work, it’s about: can a person recognize what their needs are well enough to address them, so they can kind of take ownership of what’s happening in their life and then apply the bandages, and things that need to be done, so they can heal and then continue to make healthy decisions for themselves,” Stone said. “For some people that just means they live in subsidized housing, their kids are fed, clean, and go to school regularly, and that’s a great life for them. For other people, they’re going to go back to college, or they’re going to go college. We’ve actually had some college graduates start coming through our program. There is no quick fix to homelessness.”

With the holidays coming AHP makes sure that clients know about toy drives that are happening.

“In terms of Thanksgiving, we will make sure people have what they need. We encourage our people to reconnect with family,” Stone said. “The city of Arcata is a very generous town. It’s amazing what comes through our doors. Sometimes we receive so many gifts, that we’ve actually held them over.”

Drive by Giving

On Nov. 17, there was a donation drive-through. Karen Olson executive director of AHP, was managing the event and spoke about the donated items and how they would be distributed.

“[We received] cloths, bedding, towels, toiletries,” Olson said. “We’ll be using these out at the night shelter, we’ll be using them for the Arcata House Transitional Program and we’ll be using them for our Apartments First program. This is the first time we’ve ever done a ‘donation drive by’ and even though the weather is poor I think it’s a success.”

About 25 cars drove through at the time of the interview about an hour into the event according to Olson.

One person who dropped off a bag of new cloths.

“What you need to know is that there’s too much stuff in this country, people have too much stuff, and so were happy to have people give it to us,” Olson said.

The most requested items of people in the program are are razors and soaps. The people on the street request long sleeve warm cloths.


One thought on “Working on homeless issues in Arcata

  1. Jake! This Arcata house sounds like a great place. If you get a chance hit me up. We spent some time together in Yuma, AZ back in 2005. I hope all is well.


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