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.