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Outta the Way, Hospitality Center

At three in the afternoon, November 14, at the Hospitality Center in Fort Bragg (former site of the Old Coast Hotel) a meeting was held on the topic of a winter shelter for the homeless. You didn't hear about it before hand, you say? No surprise. The leadership at Hospitality Center, specifically the Board of Directors leadership under the eye of one Lynelle Johnson, doesn't like to expose decisions that effect the public to… Well, let's just say, the public.

What was once called the Extreme Weather Shelter, will now become simply the Winter Shelter, tentatively open to house Mendocino County's coastal homeless overnight from December 15, 2019 to March 15, 2020. The new moniker means the shelter will be available every night between those dates, not just on days when rain is predicted above a certain percentage or the temperature is predicted to drop below a certain degree.

That change should prove to be a good thing, taking away uncertainty among the homeless as to whether or not the shelter will be open on any given day. It also provides certainty to those staffing the shelter or those who prepare food for the homeless.

Now, we are advancing into the nitty-gritty and part of the reason Ms. Johnson and those who run the Hospitality Center don't want the public to know how badly they are flailing about this late in autumn. Where will this winter shelter be located? It is mid-November and the answer is not clear yet, though there have been talks about this winter's shelter between city and county officials, and presumably the Hospitality Center, since July.

As usual (meaning more or less every year) those early talks floundered enough that the topic of there potentially being no plan to house the homeless this winter was even broached by at least one coast hospital board member at an August board of directors meeting. 

Rumors ran around in the last month that the Hospitality Center would be renting the site of a former steakhouse on Main Street in Fort Bragg for about $3,000 per month (for a total of $9,000 for the year). That locale is immediately north of Safeway and Starbucks and a car wash business. In the past, shelter sites were rotated between faith-based locales for a week or two at a time. One advantage in that rotating system proved to be that homeless folk did not hang out at one spot for the entirety of the winter. Using the faith-based organizations also saves thousands in rent.

For some reason Ms. Johnson has had it set in her head that this season the homeless would have a permanent home a half block or so up Main Street from Safeway. That same store is currently under an official warning by the California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) office for too many cases of alcohol shoplifting without proper monitoring. This subject and the details of how Safeway has woefully lagged behind its chief competitor, Harvest Market, in pursuing the reporting of alcohol theft is worthy of a complete report at another time.

The plan to use the Main Street steakhouse as a shelter fell through. The Hospitality Center (HC) leaders are still looking for another one stop shop site in Fort Bragg. The single spot on Main St. looked advantageous to HC officials because its location would not require going through the permit process before Fort Bragg's city council, which would be doubly important to HC leaders like Ms. Johnson. The permit process would require potential input from the public.

As of this writing, in mid-November, 2019, it appears that the winter shelter may very well revert to rotating between two week stays at faith based locales on the coast. HC leaders indicated they'd continue to search for a single site. HC Executive Director Carla Harris stated that $1,000 per month was pretty much the maximum rent HC was willing to pay. Ms. Harris seems to be trying to navigate between doing the right things while still having to adhere to the wishes and whims of the leader of HC's Board of Directors.

Ms. Johnson lives on an isolated road south of Little River, a protected enclave far removed from the business owners in Fort Bragg, many of whom work long hours and often six days rather than five. Some of the business owners in the central business district are up at three or four a.m. to make sure everything is ready and right when customers and clients start appearing hours later. Ms. Johnson didn't mention any of these neighbors or any of the hard working people in Fort Bragg at the November 14 meeting. 

Ms. Johnson is out of touch and has been for some time. She has repeatedly told falsehoods to city officials and business owners as well as inquisitive souls like yours truly. Readers familiar with the AVA's online archive should check a November 16, 2016 piece in which Ms. Johnson features somewhat prominently. 

More information on Ms. Johnson's failings at Hospitality Center and Hospitality House can be found in a February 1, 2017 AVA piece and perhaps most tellingly in a February 22, 2017 article, which concluded that “the truth is not in Ms. Johnson...” 

The only real hope for the Hospitality Center at this juncture is a change of leadership. There are some reasonable people on its board of directors. They need to prove their reasonableness translates into action by removing Ms. Johnson from any leadership positions at the institution.

An important difference in this year's plans for operation of the shelter involves the location at which individuals will be picked up to be driven in vans to a sheltering site. Over the last two winters that staging point was near the Food Bank, in the northeastern corner of Fort Bragg, relatively distant from downtown. Ms. Johnson appears insistent that the staging point be at the Hospitality Center, which could create, at the least, a three month long loitering problem in the central business district.

According to HC Executive Director Harris, the county government is willing to expend $67,000 on the coast winter shelter. That's nearly double the amount put forth last year. Unfortunately, a vote to approve that expenditure won't come before the Board of Supervisors until December 10. Actual payments from the county may not kick in until a month or more later. 

At the November 14 meeting, HC board members bemoaned the economic strain on their outfit in financially carrying the burden of a month's worth of winter shelter costs, which are estimated to run between $650-$700 nightly. Those costs include overall administration and paying four trained staffers (two each on eight hour shifts) to monitor the overnight shelter's inhabitants. 

Keep in mind that individuals who are drinking or doing drugs are not given overnight services at the Hospitality Center or its adjunct Hospitality House; however, no one is turned away from the winter shelter for being high or drunk.

To understand the extent to which Ms. Johnson is out of touch with reality, one need look no further than the agenda for that November 14 meeting. 

Under the heading for winter shelter locations, the options are listed in this order: [single] building sites; tent; faith communities. This means Ms. Johnson prefers having a single site with a tent on it for the homeless throughout the winter over using the faith based structures (and reportedly she prefers the tent idea even though the owner of a company that would provide a tent urged her to look elsewhere for shelter). This brings us back to the idea that a single site would avoid the permitting process and avoid public comment.

Yes, this is, in part, a cry for help, a sigh and a bellow for someone, some other entity, to take control of sheltering the homeless on the coast out of the hands of the Hospitality Center who have, to put it politely, muddled the process for far too long.

The Hospitality Center Board of Directors meets November 21 at 9 am, at the northwest corner of Oak and Franklin Streets in Fort Bragg. 

One Comment

  1. mr. wendal November 21, 2019

    Thank you, Mr. Macdonald, for shining light on this ridiculousness.

    The Hospitality Center needs a complete overhaul or replacement but as long as they get most of their operating funds through the County, how can improvement occur? Dan Gjerde, our current 4th district supervisor took part in planning the cockamamie scheme in your article.

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