Last week's article concluded with a reminder that venues for emergency weather shelters (EWS) are still needed on the Mendocino Coast. Lynelle Johnson, one of the Board members of the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) provided me with the reminder as well as the partially filled schedule for EWS through early April. When she first showed me the EWS schedule after the January 20th Mendocino County Behavioral Health Advisory Board meeting (There's a mouthful and a half. Why call it the Mental Health Board when five extra syllables can be attached!?). At that time the week of January of Jan. 24th through the 30th was blank, apparently meaning no organizations had come forward to provide a suitable location for shelter should the need arise during that particular week. I told Mrs. Johnson that the AVA would come out too late to be of any assistance for the last week of January. She seemed to understand.
Forward to Monday, January 25th and the Fort Bragg City Council meeting. A homeless woman announced in the Public Comments session that she had been turned away from EWS by Hospitality House officials (the pilot organization of MCHC) on at least one recent wet and cold night. Outside Town Hall the same woman, Julie Winkelmeyer (who also goes by “Julie Generic” on the Facebook page Fort Bragg Street Post), asserted that a police officer had entered the Hospitality Center that very Monday afternoon to ask why the emergency weather shelter had been closed at some point over the previous weekend. According to Winkelmeyer, an MCHC employee told the officer something close to this: “We can't tell you why.” Winkelmeyer indicated that the tone used to inform the officer seemed to imply something along the line of, 'and we don't have to tell you.'
In the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, Anna Shaw, executive director of MCHC, is quoted as saying that the EWS has been open every night weather has warranted. Coincidentally, days before that article appeared last Thursday, Julie Winkelmeyer, standing on a chilly street corner of Fort Bragg was able to quote verbatim the same criteria Shaw cited for EWS opening, a forecast that calls for at least a twenty percent chance of rain or the temperature dropping to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Winkelmeyer seemed to be one of the sharpest, most coherent homeless folks I'd run into in awhile, so on that same cold night, following the Fort Bragg City Council meeting, I left a message for one of my law enforcement sources. I drove south on Main Street, hoping Starbucks would still be open (Normally I disdain the corporate brew for the A frame south of Noyo Bridge or the coffee drinks at the Mendocino Cookie Company in the Company Store. At a more appropriate time we'll explore delectable treats at Mendocino's Good Life Bakery, but, for now, back to our story.).
With a just-before-closing Starbucks “venti” mocha in hand I entered Safeway for a few items. Tucked in a remote corner of the produce section my cell phone vibrated. It proved to be one of those law enforcement sources, who promised to check on the reliability of the homeless woman's claim about an officer being rebuffed at the Hospitality Center.
In the pre-dawn hours of the following morning the law enforcement source replied via email that yes, an officer had gone into the Hospitality Center at more or less the precise time described by the homeless woman. And, yes, the officer in question felt that the Hospitality Center staff and/or volunteers he spoke with were evasive about the topic of possible EWS closures and they acted as if they were put out by his bringing up the question at all. The officer's general take-away from the situation was that either someone at the Hospitality Center had “dropped the ball” regarding the EWS or that some sort of cover up was going on.
One of the more obvious take-aways from an objective point of view is why did a questionable situation arise to begin with. Why weren't contingency plans for back up shelter locations put in place last fall, long before the weather turned cold and rainy?