The Fort Bragg City Council met Monday night November 26, in a sparsely attended hall. The usual suspects were back in their big padded seats grinning broadly. The quiet little city was tucked into bed watching on the internet. The few citizens in attendance came for the show whatever it was to be, and theater is what they got. Mayor Lindy Peters was particularly gratified perhaps even a little surprised in a good way, to have escaped mortal electoral censure. Everyone up on the dais was in jolly post-election good spirits.
Of the new Council, only Jessica Morell Hayes was in attendance. When the new Council takes their seats in January, Fort Bragg will rejoice in the novelty of two women on our five person City Council. One has to wonder if Tess Albin Smith, an extremely rare presence at City Council meetings, will actually show up.
The main event in Monday evening's entertainment was a proposal in the curious form of a modification of the Hospitality Center use permit to put a stake through the heart of the traditional Fort Bragg Emergency Winter Shelter program. The language of treason was crafted by Marie Jones our esteemed Development Director.
Monday night the Council skillfully murdered the traditional winter shelter, in a discursive wide-ranging discussion that tried and almost succeeded in burying the substance of their wicked intention in a torrent of congeniality and mutual appreciation. They did not put it quite this way but they effectively ended a decade-long humanitarian tradition. No more extreme winter shelter.
A pathetic token program was retained. It took them all night to do it quietly. This year our rainy season is off to a welcome and vigorous start but except under carefully delineated circumstance, an average homeless person will be provided just one night (per year) of completely free shelter in a participating local church.
The Fort Bragg churches themselves are more than willing, vocally willing to provide shelter to anyone who needs it all winter. But Marie Jones has decreed otherwise.
Monday night the City Council vividly demonstrated their carefully choreographed behind the scenes coordination in flagrant contravention of the spirit if not the letter of the Brown Act. One by one the Councilmen punched their time cards and got on board the Jones program.
The electorally vindicated Mayor led the evening in ducking the facts and underlining irrelevancies like he was explaining a cliff to the lemmings.
Ultimately the Council wielded their famous rubber stamp and ended the decade-long life-saving tradition.
It’s true that not everyone gets only one night. Homeless people who can provide evidence of long residence in the city, or who actually have or have had a job here in the last six months, or went to high school in Fort Bragg will get five nights. Homeless people willing to formally sell their souls to the Homeless cartel's opioid dispensing dependency machine will (might) be given exceptional treatment.
It was a tricky night for the comedian/politicians. Good thing they had the shills from the Hospitality Center homeless services conglomerate (lead by Lynell Johnson) in the audience working with them to keep the discussion off the dangerous rocks of human rights, suffering, decency and constitutional legality.
Instead, the discussion focused intensely on keeping the county money, a pittance, ending the shelter program and avoiding public outcry. It required a focused and coordinated performance from all the actors.
Marie Jones unavoidably had to take the heat for actually writing the language. The Council was just a little too supportive to avoid the strong impression of having worked it all out in advance. When Marie Jones admitted she was the actual author of the terminating language, Councilman Dave Turner aggressively jumped in with the very kind suggestion that only Jones must have made that difficult decision because the County required it in conformity with the Marbut report.
That was it, confessed the Development Director, Marbut done it.
The Marbut report requires nothing of the kind and only suggests that in general localities help locals first. There is no relevance to life-saving emergency shelter. But of course, Marie Jones took Councilman Turner’s graciously proffered lifeline without quibbling.
The key to a successful snow job turned on keeping the discussion away from the city’s fundamental humanitarian inclination. There is a long tragic list of homeless people in Fort Bragg, most of the names perhaps forgotten except by their loved ones, who have died of exposure in bad weather. A few are remembered. I think that the whole town remembers Sundance.
But indeed there have been many fatalities, and for over a decade the real possibility and observed actuality of death by exposure was a powerful local motivator to provide an emergency winter shelter when the weather is really bad. The Emergency Winter Shelter was always our declaration that the people of Fort Bragg do actually care. The city's churches have always been avid to provide access to the physical buildings at no cost to anyone.
But in the Lindy Peters directed crackdown on homeless rights, the Development Department now requires that social workers from the Hospitality Center be present in a ratio of 1 for every 12 homeless people sheltered.
Squeezing the county for money to pay the professionals from the Hospitality Center has always been the only problem. This year and last the Hospitality Center board of directors wrestled with it for months. Getting that money became their obsession. Providing shelter? Not so much.
Thankfully as we learned just in time for Christmas this year that the social workers will still get paid. The impartially negotiated deal turns out to be that the homeless will get one day.
The stink of that heartless corpse of a limitation rose to heaven but there was not one word of opposition by any member of the City Council. The fix was in.
Some few citizens in the know might have reflected on where the excluded will go in heavy weather. One thing is certain the illegal encampments that dot the perimeter of our city, under the trees and in the bushes just out of sight, will swell and misery in them will be amplified.
Ms. Jones herself was aware of this annoying consequence. In a sort of addendum and follow-up for the evening after torpedoing the Emergency Winter Shelter closure, Jones was careful to explain that the illegal homeless camps that dot the perimeter of our care are also under massive and systematic assault.
It is quite a task to bust up a camp, she explained. Dumpsters of trash come out of the woods where the homeless have sometimes been living for years. The cops, of course, must be present in force, a diversity of agencies must be present, and landowners must be forced to put up fences in order to prevent a return of the community of the wretched (which happens anyway, sometimes in a matter of hours).
Jones didn’t mention it, but suffering, death, overdose and routine rape, characterize the homeless encampments. She did point out that trash is piled up in mountains. It takes up a lot of staff time, Ms. Jones lamented. The cold-blooded elimination of the winter-shelter will swell the camps and cause new ones to emerge but under the city's comprehensive and meticulous management Ms. Marie Jones will personally see to the destruction of camps as she has personally crafted the policy that has caused their occurrence.
It was all necessary to get the $35,000 from the county, or that was the totally irrational conclusion anyway. The Council nodded sagely in the pretense that the Marbut report was a foundational document of governance, something like the Declaration of Independence, but local.
Actually, it's just an excuse.