Arcata Shelter Managers Discriminate Against Guests with Nowhere Else to Go

Arcata Shelter Managers Discriminate Against Guests with Nowhere Else to Go

Category : Blog

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They call the Arcata Night Shelter The Island.

It is on the outskirts of Arcata and the only way that one is meant to come or go is by the van that comes to town at designated times. Most of the time the van driver is the head staff member who I will refer to as the lolly-pop lady. I only stayed at this shelter for around two months, but this was enough time to get insight into the poor decisions she made and the people that were directly affected.

The first memory that I have of her was when I boarded the van one afternoon outside of the library. I did not realize that she didn’t notice me inside until she accused me of sneaking on the next morning when she was driving us back into town, told me that she was “at capacity,” and that I should try to get into the Rescue Mission in Eureka instead. I was not willing to stay at the Rescue Mission because of my past experiences and associations. I shared the news with someone who worked at the drop-in that I was going to, they told me I was being discriminated against, and were able to open up a space for me by calling and voicing that suspicion. I was then given intake and accommodations, but during my stay there I saw person-after-person turned away day-after-day. The usual excuse for rejecting people in need was that the shelter was “at capacity”, but the meaning of “capacity” was unspecific. Some afternoons when capacity was asserted, there would be no more than 15 or 16 people. Then, some evenings there would be around 20 to 25 people sharing the space with one another. Capacity was relative to the lolly-pop ladies mood at the time of pick-up.

Occasionally, new faces would be allowed to come to The Island. Usually, they would be turned away, with absolutely no help or concern as to what they would do that night or where they could go instead. Not only would people in need be excluded from services, but people in need would also be sporadically kicked out for two weeks.

My friend “canary” had been staying at the Night Shelter for three nights, did not have any better alternatives, and did not have any belongings other than the clothing she was wearing. One afternoon, when she was walking to the laundry room to get her bedding and a towel, a host’s son accused her of being on pills once he was out of ear-shot of anyone else. He responded to her frustration at this accusation by phoning the lolly-pop lady. She drove the van back to the shelter several hours later in the middle of the night, picked up “canary” despite her wanting to stay, and with no evidence to suggest that she had consumed pills, dropped her off that night somewhere in town. I haven’t seen her since then.

A month or so later, a friend of mine was accused of stealing some tobacco from a fellow guest. Despite there being no evidence to prove that he had done this and no legitimate reason to suspect this, he was prohibited from returning to the shelter for two weeks because of this accusation. He did not have anywhere to go, and he did not have sufficient gear to be staying outside. The last time that I saw him was a few days after he had been 86’d when he dropped into my work and told me about what went down.

There needs to be alternative shelter options in Humboldt. There needs to be different policies at the current shelters in Humboldt.

There should not be an imperative on sobriety at these shelters that causes people to be denied services. There needs to be enough room to accommodate every person who wants to sleep inside.

People should not be denied food for arbitrary reasons. People should not be marginalized for being perceived as mentally ill. People should not be demeaned, reduced, talked down to, or dehumanized by anyone, but especially through agencies that claim to help people in need.

People should not have their belongings stolen from them, destroyed, and thrown into a dumpster by agencies that claim to steward the environment.

People should not be given citations for sleeping. People should not be searched without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

People should not have to endure acts of violence from the APD and the EPD. People who look poor should not be detained for no decent reason.

People who live outside should not have their lives threatened by hypothermia because they are not allowed a place to stay inside. 

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