At the July 8 meeting of the supervisors, Fort Bragg area Supervisor Dan Gjerde told his colleagues that the closure of the Buddy Eller homeless shelter in Ukiah last May had driven the displaced homeless to Fort Bragg. Gjerde, as all liberals these days, went deep for a euphemism to describe this population, calling them people with "significant problems." As he knows, "significant problems" means drop-fall drunks, free-range tweekers and the mentally ill who just happen to drink heavily and take any drug they can get their hands on. The thinking is that it's somehow unkind to refer to drunks as drunks, drug addicts as drug addicts, crazy people as crazy people.
“As you know,” Gjerde said, “the city of Fort Bragg sent a letter to the Board expressing their concern about the closure of the Buddy Eller Center in Ukiah. It has in fact closed. In the month of June they were not taking in any new patients, or customers. The city of Fort Bragg has the only remaining homeless shelter in Mendocino County and it has 22 beds. … During the month of June that facility has seen a significant increase in the number of people coming to it because of the closure of the Buddy Eller Center which was not taking in new customers throughout the month of June. Some of these people have some significant behavioral problems. … With the only facility now in the county being on the Coast — it is really not equipped to handle all people that were at the Buddy Eller Center — they had 64 beds at the bed Buddy Eller Center.”
At that July 8 meeting, Gjerde went on to describe the problem in more detail, adding, “The Fort Bragg area and the Mendocino area combined are about 25% of the county population but they are not really equipped to absorb 90% of all the homeless in the county on the Coast. Social Services has contracts with the Buddy Eller Center. There is a plethora of services Ukiah that don't even exist on the Coast. It's kind of baffling that there is no functional facility in Ukiah. We have been told that the Buddy Eller Center will be operating again, but not until November. So that leaves the entire summer — we are already seeing a significant increase in the number of people showing up from here in Ukiah over there on the Coast. There is a significant amount of frustration and anxiety about what's going to happen this summer on the Coast. This is a festering issue. I sent an email to the Social Services department recapping what happened at the meeting the other day. I really hope the Social Services department steps up and gets a temporary facility over here in Ukiah until the Buddy Eller Center reopens in November. It's just not really acceptable to have so many services here in Ukiah and not have a homeless shelter of any kind during the summer.”
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Last week an item appeared on the Supes July 21 meeting consent calendar titled, “Approval of Agreement with Ford Street Project in the Amount of $145,275 to Provide for the Provision of the Food Bank, Community Resource Services, and Homeless Shelter Services in Ukiah in Fiscal Year 2014-15 from October 2014 through June 2015.” … “The County has been contracting with local non-profit agencies for emergency shelter services for Mendocino County indigents since 1982. Ford Street Project provides emergency shelter, drug and alcohol testing and treatment, and resource services to address the needs of the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) General Assistance clients and other inland county persons who are at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness.” … “The term of this Agreement shall be from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. The compensation payable to CONTRACTOR hereunder shall not exceed $145,275 for the term of this Agreement.”
Gjerde asked that this item be pulled from the consent calendar for discussion and vote.
Gjerde: The Buddy Eller Shelter in Ukiah stopped taking in new clients at the beginning of June and completely shut down at the end of June. Here we have a contract partly in this fiscal year to take effect from October through June of next year. So we have a contract for part of the fiscal year and as a result they only intend to open up on November 1. I spoke to the director of the Ukiah shelter and it's clear that they are scaling down their shelter from 64 to 32 beds, but they could reopen with 32 beds prior to November 1 if only they had some more money. I don't question giving them the contract, I question why the County is not providing some leadership here to get the shelter opened prior to November 1? I'm concerned that we are just drifting hear and policy is being set by staff and not by this board. I think it should be the policy of this board to get the shelter open in Ukiah prior to November 1.
Supervisor John McCowen: That's a discussion that probably the board should have or could have had earlier when the announcement was made that Ford Street would be shutting down the Buddy Eller Center. That conversation is happening now at the Homeless Services Planning Group which met yesterday and they voted to appoint an ad hoc committee and maybe members of that group or members of the public who are interested in the issue will be meeting to determine what happens next and what can be done to get a shelter open in Ukiah. I would fully expect that the Health and Human Services participates in those meetings. I also think it would be appropriate for the board to have this issue on our agenda for discussion by this board to determine what resources we may wish to direct to this effort. Again, we could have had this item on our agenda earlier to try to get out in front of the issue but, but, you know, the issue is here before us now, this particular contract. As supervisor Gjerde said he is not objecting to this particular contract which is focused on providing services to those who are eligible for general assistance. It is a contract for services and by itself is not really setting policy. The decision to close the Buddy Eller Center was made by Ford Street based on their financial condition and they basically had been telling the community for two years after they lost a federal grant that supported the shelter that they could not continue indefinitely subsidizing the shelter to the tune of approximately $9000 a month. Now we are at the point where it is closed and again I agree there should be a discussion about what steps to take next to try discuss steps to get a shelter open in Ukiah as soon as possible because when Ford Street opens in November they will have a much different focus than the Buddy Eller shelter did. So there will be individuals who will not be eligible for the new shelter including some people who are at risk, who are vulnerable because of their age or medical condition and other factors. But I do not see where this contract before us is the vehicle to the have full-blown discussion on what we should be doing about the shelter closing.
Stacey Cryer, Director of Health and Human Services: I believe that Supervisor McCowen said everything really well. This contract is part of our overall general assistance plan where we offer cash assistance, voucher assistance and services assistance. This satisfies that portion of the plan that offers services. There are capacity building services, there are drug and alcohol services, there is intake and screening services, all sorts of services built into this contract to serve the general assistance population. I agree that there needs to be a bigger discussion about what to do about a shelter and that needs to be a full board discussion. This does not fund the Buddy Eller shelter or attempt to keep that shelter open. That was their decision. It funds and services we are required to deliver under the general assistance plan which is funded through the general fund.
(It would be interesting if Ms. Cryer or someone, anyone, from the County leadership, would give us some stats on the success or non-success of these alleged drug and alcohol rehab services. It's obvious they aren't working, as a daily reading of the County Jail intake reveals. You can be sure the "therapists" allegedly providing the rehab are well-connected libs.)
Gjerde: Clearly, those services that are being provided will only be provided starting November 1.
Cryer: That is incorrect. There are still services being provided through this contract prior to November 1.
Gjerde: But the homeless shelter services will only resume November 1 in Ukiah. So there will be a gap. There are no new customers in June 1 until they reopen on November 1. So for the entire summer that portion of services will not be provided in Ukiah.
Becky Emory, Deputy Director of Adult Services: You are right. At this point we don't have shelter services in Ukiah. However, there are other services that they are providing through Ford Street such as alcohol and other drugs, drug screening, General Assistance, community showers, and services they are still providing which are covered under this contract, the food bank, other support services for our homeless and general assistance services.
Gjerde: At the Homeless Services meeting we all heard several providers pointing out that lacking a shelter for those who want to get those services will hinder the ability of the service providers to keep these people sober and moving forward with their lives. The big concept is Shelter First. But in Ukiah now it’s Shelter Last. It’s services, but no shelter.
Cryer: I agree that the issue of not having a shelter in Ukiah is a community issue and an issue countywide. I agree with Supervisor McCowen that this contract is not the vehicle to have that discussion. I think it's a discussion that needs to take place. It's a full board discussion. But this general assistance contract service is to service clients as part of our GA plan. We are not reimbursing the shelter for shelter services during the time they're not providing shelter services. We only are reimbursing them for the components that they are doing. I'm not sure this is the right vehicle to have this discussion although I do agree it's a discussion that needs to take place.
Gjerde: Clearly we should have this discussion soon. In fact we should have had it months ago. It should have been brought to us by your department months ago since you knew that they were going to shut down. The CEO’s office should have brought it to this board. This board does not manage contracts. Staff manages contracts. And when the contract was going to end and we were going to have a new contract, staff should have brought this to the board for discussion at that point. I understand that there’s an ad hoc, but I believe that the ad hoc committee is also looking at long-term issues such as a second shelter in Ukiah that would deal with the clients who would no longer be served by the Ford Street Center in its scaled back configuration. We cannot wait for an ad hoc committee which can only give advice two or three months down the road. By the time they generate recommendations and give them to staff it might not end up on this board’s agenda for three or four months! I think it needs to be on our next agenda.
Cryer: I hear what you're saying that perhaps we could have brought it forward earlier. I do want to remind the board that the county is not mandated provide any shelter. The county is not funded to provide shelter. HHSA does not get funded to provide the shelter. We do some services through the general assistance plan which is County general fund. In my opinion as Director of Social Services this is a bigger issue. It is an issue that needs to be resolved with others besides HHSA — the cities, the different entities, and folks, it is not just an HHSA issue to bring forth. I believe it's a community issue. I accept the comments that maybe I should have brought it forth sooner but I just want to remind the board that it's not a mandate that we have to do that.
Pinches: Board members have any opportunity to bring any item forward that they see fit and bring it forward themselves without waiting for staff or any department to do that.
McCowen: We all got the same notice the same time. Any of us could have brought the item forward. So I don't think it's productive to try and single out staff when we all have the opportunity to bring things forward. What's important now is we all recognize that there is a larger discussion that should take place. Yes, it should have taken place sooner. But we will be having that discussion. Whether it's on the next agenda or right after that, I don't know. It might be appropriate to let the homeless services planning group ad hoc committee have at least one meeting and possibly even make some recommendations to the board. I'm willing to let staff work on that issue and bring it forward as soon as we are ready to have a productive discussion on it based on what our options are.
Pinches: We need to move forward with this contract.
Supervisor Dan Hamburg: I move the recommended item. (McCowen seconds.)
Gjerde: The shelter that will be reopening, the new downsized shelter that will reopen in Ukiah, will provide less services than the prior one, and will not serve certain clients. But at least it will be serving some clients. That shelter can reopen prior to November 1, it's just a matter of money. This County has money. This County has access to state and federal grants. It has money in general assistance. The money that is going to the shelter for the 18 beds as I understand it are for single people, not for families. The other beds are for families. Why not just release additional money for the single beds sooner so they can open up sooner? This is not an overwhelming problem. It's just a matter of HHSA letting loose a little bit of money to open it up two or three months sooner.
CEO Carmel Angelo: I just want to remind this board that we do have these services, general assistance and Health and Human Services — this is general fund. This is not HHSA money. The $145,000 is under this board to give to Ford Street. I respectfully request that we remember that this is general fund. The board makes the decision. I think it's unfair to continue to point the finger at HHSA for this! Thank you.
Gjerde: And I think the blame lies directly with staff on this.
Cryer: I appreciate CEO Angelo’s remarks and I agree with them.
The Board voted 5-0 to approve the $145,000 grant to Ford Street as proposed.