New Directions: Putting Homeless Out in the Cold
Category : Blog
New Directions claims to be an organization which stewards the environment by “cleaning up” trash left behind from people sleeping outside as well as “cleaning up” encampments themselves. New Directions also prides itself in giving houseless people opportunities to give their life a “new direction” by paying them to “clean up trash” and by providing them with temporary living quarters. This facade sounds endearing, but the reality is that “cleaning up” usually takes the form of abusive behavior that has included stealing people’s tarps, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and personal belongings and throwing them into a locked dumpster so they can not be retrieved later.
John Shelter is the man behind New Directions who started the agency, organizes the policies, and recruits new people to work for him. Prior to starting New Directions, he was the manager at the Arcata Service Center, previously known as the Endeavor. Having been in these positions, one would hope that he would be considerate and respectful towards people who live outside.
But, people who have collaborated with him seem to think otherwise. Kathy Anderson was the coordinator at the Arcata Endeavor (later became the Arcata Service Center) from 1988 to 1995 which mainly operated to provide food to hungry people. She was also the director at the Arcata House for a period of time, which mainly operated to provide transitional living for people. Kathy has conviction that one is entitled to live their life in any way that one is inspired to do so, and she does not rely on a “middle class standard” as a means to gauge how she should relate to other people.
She had the opportunity to work alongside John Shelter as well as participate in community meetings with him. Because they knew many of the same people, Kathy was able to observe how John Shelter relates to people who live outside or are in low-income situations. She described him as not being for the people, as being completely loyal to his sources of funding at the expense of people’s livelihoods, and as being driven by a quest for power, an attitude of self-importance, and the desire for prestige.
While working at the Arcata Service Center (formerly the Endeavor) he consistently exercised biases against people who drank alcohol or who he found a reason not to like. This discrimination took place through denying these people services such as food, when the only qualification to get food should be whether or not one is hungry. In short, his personal prejudices inhibited people from receiving services when they were in need of services.
During the 5 years that Kathy Anderson ran the Endeavor she never had to call the police to resolve disputes among guests. According to her coworker, Verbena, she managed the Endeavor with integrity and respect. She worked with people by “having a program that fit the needs of the people rather than people fitting the needs of the program.”
But, when the Arcata Endeavor began to accept federal funding in the form of block grants, and later when John Shelter came into the scene, things began to seriously change.
Having worked at the Arcata Endeavor for three and a half years, Verbena witnessed these changes as they began to take place. John Shelter quickly garnered a reputation for relying heavily on police presence to run things. The cops began to come through the Service Center on a day-to-day basis to run warrant checks on people who were trying to get a meal or clean up. The programs became rigidly structured. Everything became computerized and every person who wanted to use services was documented into an electronic database. As the director of the Arcata Service Center, John Shelter began to determine who could be at the Service Center, how people had to behave, he would be inquisitive and intrusive about whether or not people were on drugs or alcohol, he antagonized people, and he consistently called the cops on people for suspecting their behavior to be caused by mental illness or the influence of intoxicants.
This disrespectful mentality that the management pushed towards guests was indicative of internalized biases against houseless people and low-income people. This lack of respect encouraged guests to have a lack of respect towards the management. The social relations continued to worsen between guests and management, and the Arcata Service Center gradually fell apart.
John Shelter continues to operate within this framework of prejudice and discrimination through New Directions. John Shelter’s sick mentality continues to reveal itself through his current actions towards houseless people. These actions include his on-going collaboration with the Eureka Police Department.
When New Directions is not merely picking up litter outside of the Bayshore Mall or cleaning up after an event, John Shelter and his co-opted recruits prowl around Eureka looking for tent or tarp situations to dismantle. After an outdoors living situation is scoped out, then the New Directions’ crew will contact the cops if people are detected at the site.
Depending on the situation, the police may detain and arrest the person who is staying at the site. Otherwise, people are issued a citation rather than being cuffed and taken away. But, what past instances have shown to be constant is that the New Directions’ crew will raid one’s tent or tarps, loot all of their belongings, destroy all of their belongings, and then throw them into a locked dumpster.
As someone who works with youth who live outside, I regularly come into contact with people who have some sort of relations with the agency. Earlier this week, a kid who works for New Directions, came into my work to use services.
I asked him about the agency and how “camps” are handled and he was pretty forward spoken about the procedure. He straight up described instances in which he has gone out with the rest of the crew to locate places where people camp out. On occasion, he said, the cops handcuff the person who is sleeping outside for “camping”, and then after this person is taken away, New Directions will raid and destroy their possessions at the site.