Fort Bragg’s Big Freakin’ Problem

Back in late March of 2014 the Fort Bragg City Council held a hearing to consider a resolution authorizing an application for a $2 million community development block grant (CDBG) that would have gone toward establishing a mental health services center at 300 N. Harrison Street. The resolution was adopted by a 5-0 vote, but not before much opposition, especially from several people who reside near 300 N. Harrison St.

The deal for acquisition of the 300 N. Harrison property fell through about a month later. Since then Hospitality Center, a coastal subcontractor of Ortner Management Group as a provider of adult mental health services on the coast, has been searching for another property, hopefully one big enough for several transitional housing units but also space for clients to meet with counselors and case managers as well as room for group sessions and other activities.

One of the more vocal opponents to the 300 N. Harrison Street project also wrote a letter to the city last March, which stated, in part, “We also feel it would [be] much easier to police a facility of this sort if it were located in the business area instead of a residential area…”

What more then could you ask for than 101 N. Franklin St., the Old Coast Hotel building? The City of Fort Bragg still has $1.2 million out of a total $2 million grant for the purchase. The asking price from the owners of the Old Coast Hotel: $900,000. So at the January 12, 2015 Fort Bragg City Council meeting to consider authorizing essentially the same CDBG as last March, but for the Old Coast Hotel site, the person who wrote the letter asking that a mental health services center be located in the business area expanded her thinking to ask, “Why is Fort Bragg the chosen spot for this? Why isn't it some place more centrally located?”

When push comes to renewed CDBG shove, for some “not in my backyard” becomes not in my whole town. Thus was the thinking of some of the people who packed the City Council meeting to object to the Hospitality Center acquiring the Old Coast Hotel. The same mindset and worse pops up on websites supposedly dedicated to happenings in Fort Bragg: “I dont think Fort Bragg is big enough for housing for the homeless,” or “All the handouts need to stop!!! Every church needs to shut down and not cater to them. They need to get into a program or get out of fort bragg.”

“Them” presumably refers to anyone who is homeless, living on the street.

At the January 12th City Council meeting there was another, more reasonable, group of business owners in the vicinity of the corner of Franklin and Oak Street (where the Coast Hotel has stood for decades) who opposed the project on the grounds that it would bring more unsavory types to this section of Fort Bragg. Most of these business owners front loaded their comments with positive remarks about the overall work of the Hospitailty Center before coming down on the 101 N. Franklin St. locale. City Councilman Lindy Peters went along with this group of business owners in voting against the project. The other three councilmembers (Councilman Mike Cimolino had to recuse himself because he lives within 500 feet of the Old Coast Hotel) weren't buying it, voting 3-1 in favor of allocating the money for purchase of the Old Coast Hotel.

This whole issue is rife with problems. First, there are those who are afraid of almost anyone who is different from a perceived norm. The less said the better about these folks, except that they may be in need of the very same help they are afraid of seeing dispensed from the Old Coast Hotel (or anywhere else). However, and this cannot be accented enough, there is a problem in Fort Bragg with a certain element of the homeless/street people.

The kind of folks who will be going to the centralized mental health services center at the Coast Hotel are the same type of people who are already seeking help from Hospitality Center in order to better their lives. There are going to be relatively few problems in or outside the Old Coast Hotel from these Hospitality Center clients.

The problem in Fort Bragg is a very visible tangent of the operation that got the Hospitality Center started. That is: Hospitality House, the Mcpherson [sic] Street location where meals are dispensed to the homeless every day at 5pm. Serving meals to the homeless is a worthy thing, in and of itself. It's what happens afterward that's the problem. When meals are done, say around 6pm, the sort of folk who are likely to use the new centralized services at the Old Coast Hotel or live in its five transitional housing units, those sorts of people are the ones hanging close to Hospitality House, doing chores and helping with clean up. But nearly every evening there is a sizable group of perennial street people who move on from Hospitality House at 6pm. Sometimes they congregate in the Purity parking lot, some hang around the Lighthouse Foursquare Church awhile. If you stop by the Fort Bragg Post Office late on a chilly night you may spot one or two trying to sleep inside. Hardworking business owners on Franklin Street return at night or in the morning to find the front or back entrances to their stores used as dumping stations for fecal matter.

Establishing the Old Coast Hotel as a center for mental health services is not going to draw any more or less street people to the Oak and Franklin Street area. That problem already exists. The only potential problem in that central location will be determined by how well Ortner Management Group and its subcontractor, Hospitality Center, dispenses services.

The big freakin' problem is the number of homeless who only avail themselves of the free meals at Hospitality House then disperse to cause problems for businesses, residents, and ultimately for law enforcement, who are, it is a numerical fact, the first responders for the mentally ill and homeless. The big freakin' problem is that Fort Bragg doesn't have two or three more locations like the Old Coast Hotel or 300 N. Harrison.

In short the Hospitality Center at the Old Coast Hotel is not the problem, it is potentially a part of the solution. The troublesome homeless who are taking a dump on the front and back steps of Franklin Street (and elsewhere) businesses are a problem.

Perhaps Fort Bragg and the County of Mendocino need to demand of Ortner Managent Group that they (Ortner) provide housing for all mentally ill homeless persons just as the state of Utah is doing right now. In Utah the average cost of dealing with a chronically homeless person, meaning emergency room visits, ambulance costs, police time lost, the expense of setting up shelters, all of this adds up to approximately $20,000 a year per homeless person. Utah is quite a ways into their program of providing housing for all of its chronically homeless population and so far the statistics show that housing a homeless person costs about $8,000 a year. That includes visits to counselors and case managers.

The state of Colorado has begun a similar study of the problem. Their findings vary only slightly when viewed in light of cost of living differentials in the two states. The cost of a homeless person on the street per year in Colorado: $43,000. The cost of housing the homeless: $17,000.

It seems that there will always be some who think the only way to stop a mentally ill street person from being chronically homeless is some sort of banishment (run 'em out of town) or punishment (incarceration or fines), but those who believe thusly need to know that many in law enforcement, locally and nationally, have come to understand that the problems of mental illness and homelessness are not issues that society can arrest its way out of.

* Dollars and cents side notes:

The City of Fort Bragg will receive 7% of the overall $2 million for this CDBG. This money must be spent on items related to CDBG, however.

The Community Development Block Grant allowed for $1,162, 791 for the purchase and renovation of the property (Old Coast Hotel). The selling price is reportedly $900,000, so the extra money will go to closing costs as well as slight remodeling and renovation. The Old Coast Hotel has approximately half its needed sprinklers. Therefore the additional sprinkler installations will come from the $210,000 plus differential between the selling price and the CDBG allocation. 

9 Responses to "Fort Bragg’s Big Freakin’ Problem"

  1. Alice Chouteau   January 21, 2015 at 11:32 am

    The problem seems to me is that a certain percentage of the homeless are mentally ill, perhaps also substance abusers, who do not want help. They are happy to accept handouts, but are not comfortable in any kind of shelter with rules. I don’t think Fort Bragg folks are nimbys,; you are overlooking the fact that we have long had a certain number of incorrigibles who are accepted as they are. One example is a woman I wont name, who is very intelligent, and schizophrenic. She does not want to stay in a shelter. Local people of my acquaintance have helped this woman to survive for about thirty years here. On cold nights, she sleeps in a friendly backyard under cardboard and plastic. Everyone who helps her eventually becomes frustrated. I dont know the answer either, but please dont portray Fort Bragg residents as heartless.
    The problem is much bigger than the homeless in the city limits. There are property owners outside of town, some of them of borderlines mental stability, with run down cabins etc that are legally uninhabitable, but acceptable to indigents without other options. Some of these problems have become homeless communities, with perhaps some decent folks coping with criminals, addicts, and mentally ill people. These situations seem to be completely under the radar., and potentially dangerous to properties around them.
    I dont agree with you about incarceration–i know personally of long time addicts who were only able to rehabilitate by time spent in jail or prison. Your editor mentions the county work farm that took care of the problem with the incorrigible faction for many years. We simply do not have enough law enforcement here to deal with the number of homeless creating problems. Housing the homeless might be a solution for some, but this town already has a resident population of elderly, and working locals who need affordable rents.
    I dont know the answer, but feel youre missing the point. This is a low-income town, trying to better itself. The homeless situation undermines these efforts.
    Alice
    Fort Bragg

    Reply
  2. Megan Caron   January 21, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Malcolm McDonald I think you’re missing the big freakin point. The hospitality house had months to prepare it supporters. The public had four days notice to prepare their opposition. The town of Fort Bragg has been duped by the city council and mayor, it was a backroom deal that reeks of favoritism. And the owner of the old coast hotel Tom Carini is rewarded with a fabulous tax break. I don’t know where you were getting your opinions about the homeless problem, they seem slightly belligerent and not widely held by most.The average person agrees the homeless need A place to go. But really,one of the last historical buildings in Fort Bragg? The hotel would have been sold years ago if it were priced at a fair market value,the inflated price was preventing anyone from ever buying it so the owner could enjoy an annual tax write off. There are far more suitable locations on the south end of town. It appears to most that the city Council has a written off downtown Fort bragg because they are just going to build a new town when the mill property opens up. In no other town with this be allowed to happen, historical preservation Society’s would typically put a stop to this. What’s that old saying you build it and they will come…and yes folks they will keep coming. Your article should have been called the duping of downtown, that is the big freaking problem!

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  3. Judy   January 22, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Malcolm, Let me say the comment that I made about locating the facility in the downtown business area was made out of frustration. Frustration that the City went along with the 300 N. Harrison St. location which is residential and includes Wiggly Giggly Park. Frustration that we were lied to over and over again by those involved in the project. Frustration that we weren’t being heard. “Centrally located” that you refer to means this: A place perhaps in Ukiah where those in need of mental health services can truly get the help the need by professionals. I believe what was said is: The perfect solution would be if all cities within the county could pool their money and have one facility centrally located. I was thinking of Talmage when it was open an actually helped those in need. If you think for one moment those in need of help are getting it when they need it, in my opinion you are wrong. Example: Last week a call to the PD about a male who was suicidal and asking for help. PD picks him up takes him the emergency room. 10 minutes later emergency calls PD to say they don’t have the staff to watch over the guy and mental health is not available until 8:00. The call came in at 6:00. Last I heard it sounded as though PD went back picked him up and over the hill he went. You can check into that and correct me if I’m wrong. Heartless and uncaring? I would say those against this project are probably the most caring in this situation because we seem to be the only ones speaking up for those in need instead of speaking up for a building then patting ourselves on the back when we get our way. This was a done deal from the beginning, the community is aware of that. If this City and those being paid to help these people are sincere in what they are doing why don’t they do something that might make a difference to those in need instead of those who are paid for services that are not happening? To top it all off take a Historical Building that was on the market for a long period of time because of the outrageous price put on it and turn it into a place where no taxes will ever be paid and no jobs (with the exception of those all ready in place) will ever be had. You can’t tell Carine’s what to do or not do with their property but you sure can see it for what it is. Any freakin answers to that Malcolm?

    Reply
  4. Joan Hansen   September 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

    The Old Coast Hotel is not the appropriate location for a mental health facility. There is not enough parking on Franklin St. Many homeless mentally ill will be exposed to the public when they seek help. There are not enough rooms to create housing for the number of those in need of help. If Ortner could purchase a motel away from the center of Fort Bragg, there would be room and parking and less visibility. I think the Coast Hotel will work for the offices, but not for the actual needy walking the streets.

    Reply
  5. Judy   September 26, 2015 at 6:43 am

    5 rooms for transitional housing at a cost of 1.2 million is a joke. The entire project was for office space and that’s it. Why doesn’t someone grow a set of balls and admit it?

    Reply
  6. Judy   September 26, 2015 at 6:45 am

    I have to correct myself. Not only office space but of course the dollars the City of Fort Bragg got rewarded off this project plays a very large part of it. Do you think if the City wasn’t making money off of it, they would waste their time on it?

    Reply
  7. BB Grace   September 26, 2015 at 8:15 am

    The asking price for the Old Coast Hotel was $3 Million. It was NEVER offered to the public for $900K.

    The big freakin problem is that Mendocino County has a marijuana culture that attracts “trimmigrants” which Hospitality House refuses to administer.

    Old Coast represented HOPE that Fort Bragg was going to rebound after years of “redevelopement” that closed Franklin Street during tourist season with street improvements. If there was a chef or someone who had the ability to transform the Old Coast into a tourist distination, that was the HOPE that was dashed when the City made a deal with the County and Hospitality Center.

    It’s not NIMBY. My back yard is organized so that I can work in it, Fort Bragg City is not organizing a city for tourists and that’s a huge problem OF tourism is to be Fort Bragg’s economy.

    Reply
    • BB Grace   September 26, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Furthermore, while in Los Angeles I see there is a Mendocino Cafe that has nothing to do with Mendocino but a “tribute” to the non-gmo laws.

      How about if Mendocino Cafe, which now has 6 stores, had opened in Old Coast? That is something that I think many people hoped for.. a restaurant, a place that was going to set the bar and have businesses pick up, as globally many places have “restaurant rows”, so why wouldn’t Fort Bragg?

      Most tourist towns or sections have great restaurants and interesting shops and encourage walking.

      What does Fort Bragg do? Pave the headlands. There’s no shops, no restaurants, no public facilities, this is just pouring tons of what will have to be maintained of asphalt because people can’t walk on groud? Tear up the haul road and build a black ribbon from Noyo to Pudding Creek.. Everyone is up in arms about Hare Creek property you can’t see from HWY one, but by all means pour thousands of tons of asphalt on the headlands because that’s green building? That’s sustainable? It’s BS, and I wish the BS would clear out of my neighbor’s back yard.

      I tell myself that Fort Bragg City desperately needed the Old Coast for their mental health and then I don’t feel so bad about seeing my dreams for Fort Bragg go for those who need help. Now I hope nothing bad ever happens there. That would be a shame to the boomer generation to see Fort Bragg unable to recover from these Fort Bragg City Council and management follies.

      Reply
  8. Jay   January 17, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    What is the current situation of homeless and the solution almost a yeAR from the problem

    Reply

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