At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, the Humboldt Homeless and Housing Coalition said that homelessness in the county has decreased over the last two years, but the problem is far from being fixed.
The coalition presented the findings of the 2013 Point-in-Time survey, which showed a 3 percent decrease in homelessness since 2011, although there were some issues with incomplete information on the forms. The survey, which is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, attempts to interview as many homeless individuals as possible across the county in a single day to provide insight into the homeless population.
The results -- taken on Jan. 28, 2013 -- showed 1,579 people were living without regular housing, compared to 1,626 surveyed in 2011. The 2013 numbers included 123 children under the age of 5 and 12 adults over the age of 70.
”It may be one of the single biggest issues, but we need to get it under control,” 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn said during his first meeting as board chairman. “It's one of the most predominant issues we face as public officials and as human beings.”
The coalition is made up of local businesses, housing advocates, elected officials and others interested in addressing homelessness in the county.
The coalition also updated the board on the county's Plan to End Homelessness, which began in 2009. Accomplishments included acquiring federal housing assistance vouchers for homeless veterans, opening extreme weather shelters in Eureka and McKinleyville, and increasing access to permanent housing for longtime homeless individuals.
Since forming in 2004, the coalition has received $4.6 million in federal funds. About 46 percent of that funding has gone toward permanent housing for the chronically homeless, while around 42 percent went to transitional housing. Nearly $500,000 was used for the Homeless Management Information Systems, which collects data on the county's homeless population over an extended period of time.
Coalition co-chair Karen “Fox” Olson asked the board for continued support of the project.
”The sooner we get people housed, the more likely that they will succeed,” Olson said.
In other business, the board voted 4-1, with 3rd Supervisor Mark Lovelace dissenting, to approve an ordinance amending the county's zoning code, which will prevent any new medical marijuana collectives or dispensaries from obtaining a conditional use permit. Any unpermitted dispensaries or collectives are also prohibited from operating in the county under the ordinance. Existing, properly permitted dispensaries will be able to reapply for a permit.
The ordinance was created after the moratorium prohibiting the processing of new and existing permits for dispensaries and collectives expired on Dec. 12. Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass said that regulations on where dispensaries can set up shop should be addressed by the board's medical marijuana subcommittee -- consisting of Lovelace and 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg -- at their next meeting.
”I do believe we need to get the regulations in line,” Bass said. “I don't want to see this coming back continually.”
Sundberg said that they will need to have the rules “clearly defined” before allowing more dispensaries to open.
The board also voted 4-1 -- with Lovelace dissenting -- to deny an appeal made by Humboldt Baykeeper and California Trout on the Halvorsen Quarry reclamation plan. The appeal made in March called for the plan to include an erosion and sediment strategy, documentation of appropriated water permits, protections for nearby nesting bald eagles, revisions to the Mitigated Negative Declaration and making independent water quality tests of Rocky Creek available to the public.
The board added the condition that the applicant of the reclamation plan, Ryan Schneider, sign an indemnification agreement to cover the county should any litigation follow the decision.
California Trout North Coast manager Darren Mierau asked the board to approve the conditions originally recommended by county staff rather than throw the entire appeal out.
”We're trying to make sure the county follows what rules and laws are in place,” Mierau said. “We put forth some issues in our appeal. The staff responded to it, and it seemed like there was going to be a positive response to that. I think that you're interrupting a process that could have worked well.”
The reclamation plan will remain in effect until 2025, but will become invalid should the quarry increase its mining area.
With the recent upwelling of frustration over Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits filed in the region by Eureka attorney Jason Singleton, the supervisors also voted to gather information from local businesses and chambers of commerce in their districts and discuss the input at the first February meeting.
”There is no businesses in this county that are doing well enough that they can alienate any person that will do business with them,” Bohn said.
The possible creation of a subcommittee addressing ADA lawsuits was also mentioned several times during the meeting.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston