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by Daniel Mintz, September 3, 2013
The effects of Garberville’s transient population are said to have reached a critical point and merchants have appealed to the Board of Supervisors for help in dealing with a variety of social problems related to homelessness.
But short of infusing the Sheriff’s Office with money for deputies, supervisors had no immediate ideas for responding to the complaints and a Sheriff’s Office official said resources are too limited for foot patrols.
Garberville business owners described incidents of harassment, health and safety threats and confrontational behavior during the public comment session of the August 27 supervisors meeting.
Blake Lehman, owner of Lehman Real Estate Appraising on Redwood Drive, told supervisors that “I’m sick of watching my community turn into a cesspool — the transient population in Garberville and Redway is completely out of hand.”
An under-staffed Sheriff’s Office is struggling with the situation, Lehman continued, and he said residents and visitors are dealing with ongoing serious impacts.
“We’ve got human feces, dog feces, garbage on our public lands and in our water sources,” he said, adding that community fire departments are impacted by transient-related 911 calls and fires in transient camps and Jerold Phelps Community Hospital provides unpaid medical care to transients.
“It’s physically and mentally exhausting — we’re losing our tourists and they’re not coming back,” Lehman continued. He said open use of drugs and alcohol, “vomit and other bodily fluids in public places” and the recent parvo canine virus epidemic are health and safety threats caused by transients.
“Our town’s filthy because of this population,” he said.
Lehman gave supervisors photographs documenting the problems he described. He asked that the county boost its funding of the Sheriff’s Office and direct it to “legally and effectively” remove transient camps.
His portrayal of the situation was backed up by Charlotte Silverstein, owner of The Garden of Beadin’ and Community Credit Union of Southern Humboldt President Shon Wellborn and vice president Sharon Toborg.
They gave accounts of repelled tourists, confrontational loiterers and an atmosphere of social decline.
Supervisor Estelle Fennell said the situation is “really, really troubling — I can attest to that.” She asked Sheriff’s Office Operations Lieutenant George Cavinta to talk about it and he said policing resources are limited but there have been enforcement actions at some camps.
Cavinta said the same issues are being dealt with in Willow Creek and other areas. “It doesn’t have to be said that we have a harvest moon coming real soon and things get a lot worse in the next couple of months and we’re ready to step to that the best we can,” he told supervisors, referring to imminent marijuana harvests and the trimming work that attracts homeless travelers.
When Fennell asked about assigning foot patrols to Garberville, Cavinta said “resources are limited and our officers are responding call to call.”
The Garberville Sheriff’s Substation is staffed by Sergeant Ken Swithenbank and Cavinta said that “all too often, now, he’s running out to Shelter Cove and up to Alderpoint and other areas to respond to calls for service.”
Foot patrol capacity is “very limited,” Cavinta continued, as deputies are needed for call responses to the outlying areas.
Supervisor Rex Bohn said struggling with the impacts and behavior of homeless people seems to be a widespread trend. He read from news reports on how mentally-ill and drug-addicted homeless people are increasingly causing problems in Redding, Ukiah and Grants Pass, Oregon.
“The problem is so deep-rooted, with drug abuse and the mental health issues … we have so many services out there that deal with it but it doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere with it,” said Bohn.
Fennell said what’s happening in Garberville is indeed a health and safety issue and she pledged that supervisors will “do whatever we can to make something work here.”