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 ninety-five percent 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 focusing 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 children's 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.