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Mental Health Facility, Not Homeless Shelter

After reading Troy King's offering in the first AVA of February, this writer feels compelled to respond to some of the points of misconception raised by Mr. King. The opening line of Troy King's piece asks, “Will opening a homeless shelter in downtown Fort Bragg help the homeless population or address the problems associated with homelessness in Fort Bragg?”

There's nothing like a false premise in a thesis statement (or thesis question, in this case) to totally confuse the issue. One thing needs to be made absolutely clear: the proposed mental health services center at the Old Coast Hotel is not a homeless shelter. There are a number of Fort Bragg and Mendocino Coast residents who need to do a lot more research before they continue to imply and/or insinuate that the Coast Hotel site will be a homeless shelter. Five transitional housing units does not equal a homeless shelter. A site for mental health counseling services is not a homeless shelter. Is that remotely clear to anyone?!

Further along in his piece, Mr. King writes, “We should address the reasons individuals are homeless. And the reasons truly are individual.”

That statement is precisely correct. I can attest to that, having been raised the son of a psychiatric social worker, who as a teenager often ended up answering the home phone to any number of unique clients wanting assistance from my social worker parent.

Mr. King more or less immediately counters with, “Let them chose to be homeless somewhere else. Buy them bus tickets back home and let their hometowns care for them if they want to.”

The key misspelled, contradictory word in that is “chose [sic].” If the homeless are free to choose where to be homeless, guess what, they are not going to spend winters in Bismarck, North Dakota. The Mendocino Coast is a destination point for the homeless in the same way that it is for well-heeled tourists and home buyers. It is not “If you build it, they will come,” it is “If it's a great place to live darn near everyone will come.”

The run-them-out-of-our-town concept does not work. It did not work for segregationists, and quite frankly that's what the preponderance of the Fort Bragg arguments sound like: let's segregate the homeless. In addition to the not so subliminal bigotry, the not-in-our-towners would merely perpetuate a vicious cycle from one community to the next. Running the homeless out of Fort Bragg and/or the Mendocino Coast simply continues the burden on law enforcement to be those who perform the dirty little task of running the homeless out of town. Mr. King may have been absent from roll call when modern law enforcers decided that  it is next to impossible for a community to arrest its way out of homeless problems.

This writer has been, and continues to be, critical of how Ortner Management Group and its subcontractor, Hospitality Center, dispense their privatized brand of mental health services to adults on the Mendocino Coast. However, they must at the least be given a chance to consolidate those mental health services in one site; if not the Old Coast Hotel then somewhere that is relatively centrally located in Fort Bragg. The site must be in Fort Bragg because Fort Bragg is the center for all services on the Coast, meaning everything from groceries to health care, everywhere from Rockport to Point Arena and Gualala.

The problem of homeless who trash businesses and residences in and near downtown Fort Bragg is the issue that should be focused on.

Nearly all, if not all, the homeless who continue to do drugs and trash downtown Fort Bragg will have nothing to do with the Coast Hotel mental health services site. Let me make this clear, these are separate issues. Mr. King's arguments are inherently contradictory. Stopping the Coast Hotel project will not help solve the homeless problem in Fort Bragg, it will only exacerbate it. The five occupants of the transitional housing units will be out on the streets to fend for themselves and possibly to be influenced by the less savory homeless. Without a centralized site, mental health services on the Mendocino Coast will continue to be fragmented; a person will have to travel to multiple sites for incoming access, to counseling, and the dispensing of medication.

So what is the solution for the problem homeless, the ones trashing downtown Fort Bragg. I'm going to repeat something from an earlier article about the Coast Hotel “controversy.” The homeless who do nothing except defecate and strew trash everywhere from Purity Market south to Starbucks and Safeway are mentally ill. Most are what health care professionals call "dual diagnosis" or having a "co-occuring disorder," meaning that they have a form of mental illness and an alcohol or other drug problem as well. The trash throwers rarely seek help for their diseases. Fifty years ago 95% of them would be in locked wards at the state hospital in Talmage. The bill for that was paid for by taxpayers. The taxpayers of Mendocino County have been paying Ortner Management Group approximately $8 million per year since they took over the privatization of adult mental health care services in July, 2013. Is there some sort of disconnect here? Ortner Management Group is responsible for the care of the troublesome, mentally ill homeless on the streets of Fort Bragg.

This is what folks like Mr. King and other Fort Bragg residents who are going berserk over the Old Coast Hotel site should be focussing on. Fort Bragg City Councilman Lindy Peters has advocated a citizens advisory board to provide oversight on the matter of the homeless who continually cause problems in downtown Fort Bragg. This board of citizens and city officials, from the city council to law enforcement, could provide could also oversee the privatized mental health care providers Ortner and Hospitality Center. Peters and Concilmember Scott Deitz head Fort Bragg's Public Safety Committee. This may very well be the place where something gets done to solve the problems of the truly troublesome homeless. The Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet on the second Wednesday of each month at the Fort Bragg Police Department's Conference Room. Meetings usually begin at 3 p.m. Check the Fort Bragg City website to be sure. Entrance can be had through a side door near the east end of the FBPD parking lot.

One more time boys and girls, we have separate problems here. The consolidated mental health services site proposed for the Old Coast Hotel at 101 N. Franklin St. is not a homeless shelter. The real problem concerns the troublesome homeless (read chronic alcoholism and/or drug addiction) who are trashing businesses and residences in Fort Bragg. The city needs to fully recognize this and hold the privatized providers of adult mental health services accountable for the treatment of these individuals. Most should be in locked mental institutions under the psychiatric care that Ortner Management Group is required to provide our county's citizenry, homeless or otherwise.

For those who still don't get the distinctions here, besides a failing grade in Citizenship and Civics, you are assigned to enough deep reading to come back with the names of at least three people in charge at Ortner Management Group, plus the name of the provider for children's mental health services in this county, plus the age groups that make up childrens MH services. If you can't fit that much info in your head, well, then, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, you might be the redneck who needs mental health services more than the most problematic homeless citizen.


  1. cswan February 12, 2015

    I agree with Malcolm Macdonald.
    The proposal for the Coast Hotel
    is NOT a Homeless Shelter
    but a mental health services facility
    specifically designed for the needs of Fort Bragg residents:
    ==> a Wellness Center.

    Now for the elephant in the room:

    It’s been generations now since the mill closed.
    Alcohol/drugs may have taken the pain away,
    but escapism and denial has not solved that problem,
    and bad habits have only been passed on and
    have fostered even more mental health issues . . . .
    Think about it.
    Just what (new) industry would want to come to FB
    and hire a substance-abusing population?

    So, why not turn that site into a positive example
    of what can happen when a small town
    sets its mind toward healing its own?

    This Wellness Center project
    might well be just what the
    young people of Fort Bragg
    to get
    (currently, doin’ the after-dark zombie walk)
    off the street . . .
    and back on the
    Mature Adulthood;
    —with being able to actually live there
    an “upgrade” after 60-90 days of sobriety?
    So they can “transition” from the family basement
    to having a place of their very own in the future?

    As I understand it, Ortner plans to offer
    one-on-one counseling,
    medication management (for those who truly need it),
    anger management groups,
    AA/NA/Red Road meetings,
    non-violent communication classes,
    parenting classes, life-skills development . . .etc.
    Aren’t these all aspects of good mental health?

    Other benefits of that site include:
    cooking meals together in a commercial kitchen,
    and learning about better nutrition
    and how to cook “real food” on a budget;
    —as well as the opportunity to learn
    how to hang out and chat with (new, sober) friends
    in a “bar” setting without alcohol/coca/meth
    —and having just as pleasant an experience :)

    I sincerely doubt the average
    career-homeless grifter from outta town
    (that everyone so fears will swarm FB)
    would be attracted
    to such a Wellness Center.

    But if allowed to develop and evolve,
    it could well become the positive example
    that encourages even Fort Bragg’s
    more recalcitrant characters
    to consider
    cleaning up their act, too?

    (as much as we would like it,
    there will be no rose-scented nurses
    cooing over and caring for them. . . .
    they, too will have to learn to care for themselves
    if their families will not or cannot.
    And y’all can blame your hero Ray-gun for that,
    not the FB City Council.)

  2. Judy February 12, 2015

    The problem with this is those who need help won’t be getting it. Mark Montgomery from Ortner said if someone is arrested and has been evaluated and is deemed to have mental health issues and goes to the hospital for clearance to get help and the hospital finds out they have been drinking it then no longer qualifies as a mental health issue. Instead is a Police issue so they pick the person up and haul them over the hill and lock them up. In a few days they release the person and they come right back over here and repeat the process. So they go from a person needing help at the “Wellness Center” to a drunk locked up behind bars and don’t get the help they truly need. And if you dig a little deeper, if a person isn’t on medicare or medical and has no way to pay they are turned away. Correct me if I’m wrong please. Ortner is charging just under $3.00 per minute for their services. Yes, that was per minute. As for Ray-gun? That was a very bad move in my opinion BUT there has many more Presidents and Governor’s since Ray-gun and I certainly don’t see any of them making positive changes for the mentally ill.

    • cswan February 13, 2015

      The good news is,
      if they are unemployed/underemployed
      they can now qualify for Medical benefits,
      and/or insurance premium subsidies
      under the new
      Affordable Care Act rules.
      And if they are fully employed, the ACA
      forbids insurers from dropping them
      for “pre-existing conditions”.

      But, most importantly, in answer to your
      question about “what about . . ”
      This is where the concept of
      Restorative Justice and Healing Courts comes in….

      Judges all over are the nation are now
      requiring that
      those charged with DUI or Drunk in Public,
      Domestic Violence, Child/Elder Abuse,
      disorderly conduct, drug possession, etc.
      participate in (more) healing activities,
      rather than pay fines/do jail time.
      We all know punitive action does not work,
      and often creates lifetime offenders,
      rather than solving (emerging) problems.

      This concept of healing courts
      rather than punitive courts is in its infancy
      in Mendocino County . . .
      and was first initiated in Ukiah
      with their “Drug Court” system.
      Tribal courts on many reservations
      have also picked up on this concept,
      and are beginning to see positive results, as well.

      Above all, the person has to want to
      change, and turn their life around.
      Together, the client and the
      mental health counselor
      work out a plan of action.
      (Maybe the client realizes he really does need
      residential treatment—then the referral can be made.)
      If the client doesn’t keep up their end
      of the commitment, (i.e. working with
      the mental health staff
      to create and engage in a Wellness Plan),
      well, there are always
      the Judge’s fines/jailtime to fall back on.

      The City of Fort Bragg, working in conjunction
      with the County’s Mental Health provider
      to develop a Wellness Center
      to centralize these much-needed services
      in Fort Bragg, for coastal residents,
      could be a positive step that will assist your
      local judges in re-directing those
      who appear before them toward
      working on their real issues and becoming
      more healthy and engaged citizens,
      rather than career offenders.

      It should also work to change the dilemmas
      many residents experienced over the past 20+
      years in getting ANY kind of “counseling”
      for their loved ones that did not involve
      resorting to a 5150 and institutionalization;
      permanently scarring/labeling their loved one for life.
      “Sorry, if they won’t come in voluntarily,
      your only choice is to call the cops, and invoke 5150,
      then we drive them to St. Helena/Napa…”
      (often, to be over-drugged, electroshocked, rubber sheeted)
      was what so many were told, and then, left with broken souls to care for.
      Well, if the Judge NOW said,
      “It’s JAIL or mental health counseling for you:
      which do you choose…remember,
      if you don’t keep your appts, it’s back to Jail”
      Which would they choose?

      But rather than bemoan the past,
      Please, look forward to the future,
      and the needs of upcoming generations
      and support the transformation
      of that beautiful building (a hotel that noone frequented,
      except pimps and . .oh,never mind. . .)
      into a fully-functioning Wellness Center
      that proudly proclaims: “There is another choice.
      You do not have to be a lost Zombie, kiddo
      We can and will help you find a better way.”

      P.S., And then hold Ortner’s feet to the fire to actually do it!
      Fortunately, it looks like you’ll have the FB City Council
      and your County Supervisor watching closely, too.
      And Mendocino College is training up people to staff
      Wellness Centers that utilize the concepts described above,
      via their “Health and Human Services” certificate and degree programs.
      Perhaps, next semester, they can provide this coursework on the coast?
      (I can think of a beautiful building, that currently has some space ;)

      Oh, and remember, it took over 20 years to create our county’s disheveled mental health system. So it might take the “new guys” (Whoever they are, btw) a few years to get all the right balls in play . . .

  3. Marissa Colombi February 13, 2015

    Yes, people know it is going to be a facility for the mentally ill and also mentally ill pedophiles could be taken there and that is why the people do not want it right in town. Maybe the best fit for it would be down in Little River or better yet right next door to where Malcolm lives.

  4. Judy Valadao February 13, 2015

    cswan, I don’t know you so I’m not sure if you have been to the Council meetings or have met with Mark Montgomery (Ortner). Read what you just said ““It’s JAIL or mental health counseling for you:
    which do you choose…remember,
    if you don’t keep your appts, it’s back to Jail”
    Which would they choose?” What are you not getting? You can not force anyone into this Wellness Program. If they have been locked up it’s because they under the influence of SOMETHING, which then makes it a NON MENTAL ILLNESS issue and means it falls into the hands of Law Enforcement instead which means they do not qualify for help. Please check your info.

    • cswan February 13, 2015


      I agree: It’s true. You can’t “force” anyone to do anything.

      I get the sense that you are referring to a specific situation. If so, please go to Ukiah and speak directly with those associated with coordinating the “Drug Court”. Perhaps they can explain your (current) options—as well as the type of facilities they’d “like to see in place” in order to be able to make those options more convenient for you better than I can. Tom Allman might also have some insight you might find helpful, he might even accompany you to the Ortner office in Ukiah, where you can explain your specific case and make a specific request for the involuntary (?) voluntary(?) commitment (to a residential treatment facility?) you feel your case requires.

  5. Judy Valadao February 13, 2015

    By the way cswan, the bottom line is this: Ortner is being paid millions for services THE PEOPLE ARE NOT GETTING.

  6. Sue Sponte February 23, 2015

    Homeless shelter or mental services center, the issue uppermost in the minds of those who oppose this project is to what extent it will promote “blight”, in the heart of downtown, a block from the movie theater. Nobody wants this area to undergo a miniaturized evolution of what occurred on mid-Market St in SF. The usual yahoos aside, nobody wants to run the homeless out of Fort Bragg, but there are concerns about this being an appropriate location in the heart of the commercial district for a facility of this nature, proper considerations in making planning and zoning decisions of this type.

    Possible alternative locations that leap to mind are vacant structures on the north end of Franklin St by the food bank or the old social services building down by the courthouse, venues already habituated by this milieu.

  7. Joan Hansen May 8, 2016

    Now Ortner is out. Where do we go from here? It must be better than we had, because we had next to nothing in Fort Bragg for the homeless or mentally ill.It seems to me that if this town tried to attract an industry that was clean and could provide jobs that pay a living wage it could help the community. Certainly if it was a company that provided health insurance, the hospital’s financial status would be elevated. As it is now most of their clients are Medical which does not reimburse the hospital very well. To entice an lucrative industry here first there has to be affordable housing. Apartments or homes for the employees of the industry. Our schools and hospital and town could rise up and become less of a dying area and more of a living area.

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