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Mendo’s Homeless Virus Plan

LAST TUESDAY’S BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MEETING was abruptly cut short after about two hours when CEO Angelo announced that there was a “medical emergency” involving “key staff.” Angelo then announced that because their overworked Clerk of the Board Lindsay Dunham was no longer in the Board Chambers, the meeting would have to be closed. No further information was made available.

EARLIER in the morning the Board approved an administrative ordinance which allows non-sworn code enforcement personnel the authority to issue administrative misdemeanor public nuisance citations to assist law enforcement in monitoring the shelter in place public health officer's order throughout Mendocino county. For commercial activities — specifically AirBnBs, said County Counsel Christian Curtis —a penalty of $10,000/day could be imposed. For activities not engaged in making a profit, the penalty would be $500/day. Violators would receive a notice of violation on the first day with 24 hours to correct the violation, i.e., stop the rental or show that it is “essential.”) After a 10-day appeal opportunity the Health Officer will issue a ruling and if the violator still requests a hearing, it would be sometime after the social distancing orders are ended. There probably will be some kinks in this to work out on a case by case basis, depeding on who’s renting to whom. Explaining the $10k/day fine structure, the text of the agenda item added, “For violations of the orders of the Health Officer involving activities designed to make a profit, the administrative penalties must be extremely substantial so as not to be relegated as “the cost of doing business.”

SUPERVISOR CARRE BROWN’S main concern was her own pet subject: the status of the Potter Valley project and transfer from PG&E to some kind of regional agency as yet unclear. Huffman tactfully replied that all stakeholder input was being considered.

AFTER OMINOUSLY telling the Supervisors that there may come a time when there’s “no agenda at all,” CEO Carmel Angelo told the Board that her staff had been working over the weekend and was ready to discuss presliminary planning for an “isolation and quarantine” plan for homeless people in the County, especially an encampment in South Ukiah near the Airport. Angelo said she was “working with the Ukiah City Manager” and Redwood Quality Management Boss Camille Schraeder for a response to the Ukiah encampment near Airport Park Boulevard. “It’s a problem for the full public, not just the individuals,” said Angelo. “We are working on a plan. Multiple resources are going into our homeless issue response.” But the medical emergeny ended the meeting before they got into it. Therefore, other than the County’s apparent intention to produce a plan, presumably with senior HHSA staffer Becky Emery as the point person for some “advance planning,” there won’t be any more public discussion of the subject until next Tuesday when the Board will try again to hold a virtual meeting. By then, we hope that the harried clerk of the Board’s medical issues are resolved.

A March 31 Memo from Mendocino County Health and Human Services Director Tammy Moss-Chandler was on Tuesday’s (April 7) Board agenda which, along with some supporting documents, gives an initial overview of Mendo’s approach to handling the County’s homeless population during the virus outbreak.

“People experiencing homelessness are at especially high risk for infection during an outbreak of COVID-19. Mendocino County took early action in an effort to prevent an outbreak of COVID- 19 among the homeless population and other vulnerable groups. 

In early March, Mendocino County identified all congregate care facilities in the County and reached out to assess the infectious disease prevention plans of each facility. This included an onsite assessment of all three homeless shelters within the County utilizing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifically for homeless shelters. 

Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center [in Fort Bragg] agreed with very short notice to continue their emergency winter shelter, which was scheduled to close on March 15, 2020. This continuation was requested in order to fully assess the age and health needs of the emergency winter shelter population, but was particularly important to continue with the Shelter-In-Place orders that were implemented beginning March 18, 2020. …

The County is working with Building Bridges/Redwood Community Services in Ukiah and Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center in Fort Bragg to de-intensify the current homeless shelter system to allow for appropriate social distancing. This includes exploring hotel and motel options for people with specific health risks who can better shelter in place in a non-congregate sheltered setting. This use of hotel and motel rooms provides general risk reduction by decreasing the density of group sheltering, and can also help strengthen supports for people experiencing homelessness who are at increased risk of adverse mental health outcomes. 

The County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has also expanded screening and data tracking protocols for those experiencing homelessness who were associated with HHSA’s specialized programs utilizing local hotels before COVID-19, including programs for families with children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities.”

HHSA has coordinated with local Continuum of Care service providers to educate, screen, and assess the needs of unsheltered populations. This includes surveying approximately 50 people who are residing in encampments. 

Approximately half those surveyed were not aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Shelter in Place orders, and benefited from education on social distancing and the provision of personal hygiene supplies. Approximately 20 people were over the age of 65 or had medical conditions that make them high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. These individuals were offered the option of entering into an appropriate shelter environment to help prevent infection and manage any potential spread of COVID-19. Service providers have triaged participants to determine the most strategic option, whether hotel/motel or congregate shelter environments. 

Consistent with CDC recommendations, HHSA is working with high risk individuals who are willing to relocate and shelter in place. The CDC does not recommend clearing or moving encampments, which results in dispersing people throughout the community. 

Individuals experiencing homelessness who are sheltered in hotel rooms must sign a service agreement and receive supportive services from Continuum of Care service providers. Individuals who are sheltered in a congregate environment must agree to follow the rules of that shelter, including adjusting to new requirements for social distancing.”

The memo concludes with a paragraph describing an “advanced plan” for Isolation and Quantanine (I&Q) sites, ending with, “Additional information about Mendocino County’s interim response plan for isolation and quarantine will be provided (at the Board meeting) by Bekkie Emery (Social Services Manager) and the Office of Emergency Services.”

In Ukiah the EOC says they have “identified 160 rooms (many of them want an indemnification for cleaning & support). And in Fort Bragg they have “identified 94 rooms.”

A subsequent note says, “many of the hotels and transportation partners have asked to remain anonymous.”

There’s also a handy flow chart (too busy to reproduce here) that describes the steps from first appearance of symptoms, followed by testing, a quarantine and isolation decision, a request for a facility (hotel/motel), a transportation request, patient delivery to that facility, how they are to be held as needed, and then release after re-test or quarantine complete.

In Ukiah, the Ukiah High School Kitchen has agreed to add a bus route to deliver meals to the hotel rooms where people may be staying. And in Fort Bragg the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (aka the old Coast Hotel with kitchen and staff) will cook and deliver food to “pre-identified hotels.”

The plan also mentions other issues such as medications, animals, check-ins, monitoring, law enforcement, and, of course, the as yet undefined “work through ways to cover hotel costs in collaboration with finance.”

WHICH IS ALL WELL AND GOOD for starters, anyway, as far as it goes. But:

From Moss-Chandler’s memo: “This includes surveying approximately 50 people who are residing in encampments”?

That’s nowhere near the numbers that either Marbut or the County’s much larger “point in time count” says are homeless in Mendocino County.

So, besides the still unclear financing process which we assume the County will somehow figure out how to deal with using emergency funds from the state or feds, the main unnswered question is how do homeless people — many of whom have no idea what’s going on or what’s available or whether they’re sick, or what the symptoms are, or where to go to enter the handy flowchart process — enter the process? Do they just show up sick at emergency rooms? Do they wander in to the existing shelters in Ukiah and Fort Bragg and ask to be tested? Do local cops and deputies pick them up? …

This starting-point question appears to us to be the weakest link in Mendo’s “interim response plan.” Let’s hope by next Tuesday that the County and its “partners” can fill in some of these blanks when the subject is presented to the Supervisors.

One Comment

  1. Shonna L Spaggiari November 23, 2020

    I’m high risk and have been real sick plus have a kidney transplant amd dieabic as well I need a motel I’m on the streets in willits ca 95490 I have been in hospital 2 times .please ots really cold at night .HELP

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