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Helter Skelter Winter Shelter

At the November 17 meeting of Mendocino County's Board of Supervisors an ordinance passed effectively approving a temporary group care facility without a Use Permit, within the unincorporated area of the Mendocino Coast. Within hours the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) trumpeted the ordinance as the first step in providing for a winter shelter for the homeless.

At this juncture the location of the winter shelter appears to be the Caspar Community Center. Unofficially, the folks who run the Caspar Community Center have agreed to host the winter shelter for a month beginning in December. Caspar may become the host site for the coastal winter shelter throughout the season if there are no serious problems in running it during the first month.

If serious problems should arise it looks as if the shelter might revert to a locale closer to, or within, the city limits of Fort Bragg. The staging spot for the winter shelter where homeless folk will gather before traveling to Caspar appears to be, once again, the Hospitality Center at 101 N. Franklin Street in downtown Fort Bragg.

One day following the Supervisors’ passage of the winter shelter ordinance, the AVA ran copies of letters from the last two executive directors at MCHC. 

The first was authored by Anna Shaw almost two years ago. She served as executive director of MCHC for nearly eight years. “Much as I am dismayed when I see the changes at Hospitality Center over the last seven months, with the homeless regularly sleeping in doorways, lying drunk in the bays by the windows, and leaving shopping carts trashed out front, all with no redress or amends made by staff, I have wanted to stay out of these issues. But I am so concerned by the plan to stage the EWS [Emergency Weather Shelter] at Hospitality Center that I am submitting this letter. The Board wants to help our homeless neighbors but do not have the professional experience and training to know how to handle people with serious mental illness or homeless services. The majority of the Board do not live in Fort Bragg and have no relevant professional background; therefore they do not prioritize the local neighbors, and they do not know how best to run the services for the clients. A year ago the Board wanted to cease the EWS “for business reasons,” whatever that means, and now they wish to run it in the mental health center! From one extreme impractical decision to another extreme impractical decision at the polar opposite of the spectrum of options; both of these choices were born of political expediency.”

It was in late 2018 that the MCHC Board decided to stage the winter shelter (or emergency weather shelter [EWS]) at 101 N. Franklin Street in downtown Fort Bragg. Having several years experience with running winter shelters, Ms. Shaw objected to that staging method, citing past problems with staging on the edge of the town's central business district at MCHC's original venue, Hospitality House. “[The] behavior at Hospitality House when the staging was there in the winters of 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 was so damaging to the local community that it drove the complaints that led to the EWS being disallowed from the Hospitality House Use Permit.”

As Ms. Shaw points out, there is always a potential for problems with the winter shelter. “The EWS clients are intoxicated and disruptive. They are often angry, understandably angry, because life has dealt them a rough hand of cards at this time. They are cold, hungry, intoxicated and angry.”

The second letter (possibly a text) was written by Carla Harris, executive director at MCHC following Anna Shaw. Ms. Harris's correspondence is of very recent vintage. “I am worried about the homeless people on the coast and do not have any authority to help again. The weather is turning – it's cold and rainy once again. When I was the ED of the Hospitality Center the board of directors tied my hands and then threw me under the bus because they refuse to take any responsibility for their decisions. I tried desperately to get the winter shelter open in November and was met with great resistance…”

Ms. Shaw's statement that a majority of MCHC's Board of Directors do not live anywhere near downtown Fort Bragg still holds true as does her claim that the MCHC board does not prioritize their downtown neighbors. Her successor, Ms. Harris goes on: 

“When I tried to do the right thing the board threw me under the bus over and over again and eventually [approximately July 1, 2020] fired me… [T]hey made me sign a nondisclosure agreement, stating that I would not sue them for wrongful termination nor would I publicly disclose things that went on there, and in return they gave me two months of severance pay and they would not fight me on unemployment claims. These people should not be responsible for providing homeless services on the coast and especially in Fort Bragg.”

At this juncture, Ms. Harris's remarks overlap eerily with those of Ms. Shaw's. Ms. Harris writes, “They [the MCHC board] are out of touch with reality. They enable folks, they thing [think] they are above the law and don't event [even] reside in Fort Bragg. They have no clue how to help people out of homelessness and have no idea what it takes to run an efficient and effective nonprofit organization. They are a bunch of narcissistic arses with their heads burried [sic] so deep in the sand that they can't even see beyond their own bullshit.”

Lest anyone think that Ms. Harris's conclusion went too far, the day following the publication of the two letters, Ms. Shaw wrote, “Reference the Extreme Weather Shelter: I agree 100% with Carla Harris’s experience of the MCHC Board of Directors, specifically that 'they are out of touch with reality, they don’t care about the community, and they are out of control. They enable folks, they think they are above the law and they don’t even reside in Fort Bragg. They have no clue how to help people out of homelessness and have no idea what it takes to run an efficient and effective nonprofit organization.'

“I was Executive Director for almost 8 years, I believe Carla’s tenure in that position was about 20 months. That’s nearly ten years total that the MCHC Board of Directors has mis-run this organization, as reported by the most senior staff.”

I asked an interested coastal citizen what would be the point of running the highlights/lowlights of Ms. Shaw's and Ms. Harris's correspondences in another AVA piece. The citizen's first reply: “Board accountability. Comparing them to RCS [Redwood Community Services] where the board does not try to run the day to day operations.”

The citizen added, “Other than making themselves feel important, what are their qualifications for running a million dollar service?”

The same person added this comment later. “They [MCHC] have expanded from hh [Hospitality House] to full on service provider. Other than taking on more, how have they adapted at a board level? When was the last time any of them went to board training of any kind?”

All are seemingly valid questions. Another couple of questions: how long will the city of Fort Bragg and the county put up with the nonsensically sub-par services of MCHC? When will the powers-that- should-be put a plug in this operation and stop pouring funding dollars down this drain?


  1. Douglas Coulter November 25, 2020

    I remember boarding houses helped so many live with limited incomes. Now our system of codes make that impossible unless run by non-profit groups.
    Cedar Ridge care home on Hwy 20 Ft Bragg was shut down in 2007 after being forced to spend $250,000. In upgrades to property. They cared for up to 8 seniors and ate good family meals around one table.
    Our code system and extreme laws make it a perfect place for new Jim Jones groups to step in and absorb all those wonderful government grants just waiting for religious extremist cults.

  2. Ava November 25, 2020

    I’m one of those ppl who has worked with this population for years and lives in Fort Bragg. I’ve offered my help, turned in an application 2 yrs ago when I moved here and nothing back. This is a total disgrace to our community. The board needs to be trained or fired. They simply don’t care and we are paying them handsomely. This just disgusts me. Shame on you!!

  3. Kathy November 26, 2020

    Supervisor Williams noted elsewhere that MCHC isn’t currently having a successful recruitment effort for the Executive Director Position. Meanwhile – Baby It’s COLD outside!

    • Bernie Norvell November 26, 2020

      How hard have they tried? After Anna left it took the board almost a year to come up with a job description of the vacated position before it was posted. Meanwhile the board ran the day to day operations. The more things change the more they stay the same at HC

    • mr. wendal November 26, 2020

      There is no listing for Executive Director on their Current Jobs Listings page. I’m not so sure they care to fill the position. Their preferred role is victim, not effective service provider. Why does our incommunicative county supervisor continue to support them?

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