Revisiting the Hospitality House

I attended the first two hours of the Mendocino County Behavioral Health Advisory Board (BHAB) monthly meeting on September 18. I used to attend these meetings on a regular basis, but there is only so much time in a person's day and life. The meetings are scheduled to last four hours as per the agenda. That, in and of itself, is a mistake if the intent is ever to grab and hold the attention of any significant number of the public.

I was, in part, raised by a psychiatric social worker who often didn't get home until well past dark. I understand that mental health issues did not run on a 9-5 basis and that even a modicum of study on any of the many issues involved in behavioral health would take days on end of discussion to truly grapple with, let alone start to make a progress in a single area.

By noon on the 18th, the BHAB was already 45 minutes behind the schedule set on their agenda. One of the problems therein is repeating the same mistake over and over. Under the item titled “Reports,” ten topics were listed. These were supposed to be completed in 45 minutes. Try to get through ten serious topics with 15 board members (two were actually absent) who are all intensely interested in at least one of those topics. A solution seems obvious, but never bet on the obvious when we're talking the periphery of county government bureaucracy.

Most of the “Reports” concerned important areas of the behavioral health world. In particular, outgoing chair Jan McGourty's report back from a crisis intervention team (CIT) conference in Seattle in the last week of August. I won't belabor the importance of CIT training in this county because it does appear that most if not all our supervisors are supportive of at least the concept of getting said training.

Meanwhile, in the world outside of board meeting rooms, the day to day realities of the homeless, the mentally ill, and those with dual diagnosis (drug and/or alcohol problems combined with mental health issues) continue to bounce off the rest of the citizenry like a never ending pinball game. 

The City of Fort Bragg does not provide services for those affected by the matters listed in the previous sentence. A portion of those are doled out to the Hospitality House on McPherson Street and its parent organization, Hospitality Center, on the northwest corner of Oak and Franklin Streets. As part of the deal, those “Hospitality” entities must conform to certain special use permits created by the City of Fort Bragg.

This leads us to the following correspondence sent to not only the city but also the city council and copied to the Fort Bragg Police Department, the public health department, Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde, Project Sanctuary and Child Protective Services.

The communication reads, “I have a business and own property [in the Central Business District of Fort Bragg]. The Hospitality House, located at 237 N. McPherson Street, is in violation of their special use permit and I am requesting action be taken immediately for the safety of our community, neighborhood and their clients.

“On Sept 5th 2019, there were two serious situations that occurred at 237 N. McPherson. One was a drug overdose and the second, a violent dinner guest had a physical outburst, breaking not only the rules but also county laws. I am requesting that dinner stop being served to the public immediately, as the Hospitality House is creating a public nuisance which is a violation of their use permit. I am requesting the cameras [in place at Hospitality House] be reviewed for September 5, 2019, and turned over to our police department and followed up with our district attorney.”

The writer goes on to describe the incidents. “1) A young man living at the house was passed out in the bathroom, likely from heroin, and had to be taken to the hospital for an overdose. The staff/management appears to lack the ability to see drug use in clients, the staff appears to not be issuing the random drug tests they require from clients.

“2) A violent dinner guest who had been receiving food from Hospitality House, noticed an easy way to enter the property at night after dinner. He had been staying on the property outside for approximately three days, defecating on the outside property without staff noticing. Paul Davis [official with Hospitality Center] and staff appear to not be checking the cameras daily, not checking or walking the property and seemed to be unaware there was someone on their property that had not signed on as a client to stay on their property for days, endangering all of their clients.

“This violent dinner guest had an episode terrifying the clients staying there. One of their clients came into my store crying, describing to me what she had witnessed and saying that she has been experiencing nightmares ever since. There are currently two young children staying at Hospitality House where this occurred and staff was oblivious. They endangered these children by not monitoring the property and allowing someone to illegally enter it for days. This does not make for a good environment for anyone, especially people with mental issues.

“Combining a “soup kitchen” and allowing people that are not being screened for drugs, intoxication, violent behavior, convicted criminals and drug dealers is creating a public nuisance. The Hospitality House does not have qualified staff, including their own security, and have continued to abuse our police department as their own private security for management issues, when they should be providing their own paid security. Their staff includes people who have not even been sober for a year, making these decisions lacking the time and training to make serious, important decisions affecting their clients, our neighborhood, community and the Central Business District. This is also creating a public nuisance.

“Combining a 'clean and sober' living facility with disabled folks and small children requires qualified staff, a safe and secure place without being exposed to violent drug addicted dinner guests daily.”

The writer of the letter attached the corresponding use permit and continued, “I have obtained some documents that appear to be from The Planning Commission regarding a use permit for the facility. There is specific language in staff's recommendation for approval of that permit. Following are some specifics. 

Under [the heading] Findings '2. The City is not authorizing an increase in the intensity of use at the site, as such, the project would not have a greater impact upon the surrounding neighborhood than at present. Under "Standard Conditions" 6. This permit shall be subject to revocation or modification upon a finding of anyone (1) or more of the following: (b) That one or more of the conditions upon which such permit was granted have been violated. (c) That the use for which the permit was granted is so conducted as to be detrimental to the public, health, welfare or safety or as to be a nuisance.'

“As a citizen and business owner, I am horrified with the gross neglect of this facility, including the fact they do not follow county laws or their own policies. As our Fort Bragg City Council, Public Safety Committee and City Manager, I am requesting you help this community and take action to make this facility/business/nonprofit safe for everyone in the community.”

On the same day I started drafting this piece, Fifth District Supervisor Ted Williams passed on a Facebook post about a mobile hygiene unit for the homeless launching in the East Bay city of Fremont, through a grant from Alameda County. The program is called “Clean Start” and simply provides full bathrooms with showers in a mobile trailer. Showering is limited to fifteen minutes per person.

One of the comments made below the “Clean Start” Facebook post was from a board member of Hospitality Center, who stated, “Did you know that the Hospitality House in Fort Bragg also has free showers and laundry facilities for those in need who are not being sheltered there? They also have a free clothes closet.”

There is a fine line between helping the homeless and a Newtonian equal and opposite reaction. The business owner who authored the letter concerning use permit violations might argue that providing showers, laundry facilities, and a free clothes basket makes Hospitality House a potential center for not only those who need help, but lawless individuals who only seek to take advantage.

The violent dinner guest at Hospitality House, who later camped outside on the premises for days, seemingly without notice, has reportedly had his dog taken away by law enforcement due to an animal cruelty charge, with other charges against him possibly pending.

One Response to "Revisiting the Hospitality House"

  1. Jenny Lutes   September 29, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    I own a rental property near the Hospitality House and have witnessed MANY disturbances. Lots of people screaming obscenities in front of the HH and loud crowds congregating out in front. Once, at mid-day, 2 gentlemen were passed out on the sidewalk in front of HH. When I called to let them know about the fellows on the sidewalk, no one bothered to answer the phone so I left a message. Nothing happened, so I called the FBPD. They responded quickly but only roused the men and told them to move along. These poor souls did not seem to be in any condition to care for themselves. One of them vomited on the sidewalk in front of the neighbors home, and then they staggered away. This is a residential neighborhood where people are raising families. The neighborhood kids are exposed to this on-going mess! What an education they are receiving! I remember when the Hospitality House was first opened. I believe it was a great resource for families who found themselves without shelter, and also spouses fleeing a violent partner. Primarily women and children, and nothing at all like the current circus-like atmosphere. They need a security guard 24/7. They need to stop encouraging vagrants to come to Fort Bragg for free services. Maybe they should turn the HH into a drug rehab center and give their help to people who WANT to get the help they need. These people need mental health services and sobriety, not freebies and enabling. Something must be done.

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