FORT BRAGG, 5/13/23 — In Fort Bragg, programs to help those who are disabled, homeless, mentally ill, or addicted to substances opened recently, courtesy of a Gavin Newsom administration committed to invest more money and effort into positive outcomes. Federal grant monies have also been involved and investments in time and money by the City of Fort Bragg. Fort Bragg Mayor Bernie Norvell has been spearheading many of these initiatives.
Here are some of the programs:
• County officials were onsite this week to check completion of a new four-bed Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE) adjacent to Mendocino Coast Pharmacy on Cypress Street; the site backs up to the Adventist Mendocino Coast Hospital’s Urgent Care Center and doctor’s offices. The facility, which will employ fourteen caregivers, will provide 24/7 care and be managed by developer and property owner Parents and Friends, a program dating to the 1950s for developmentally disabled persons. On Monday night, the city approved spending an extra $55,000 on top of the $3.4 million grant funds allocated for the project.
• A new respite center is beginning the process to take up to four patients having a mental health crisis. The facility is adjacent to Adventist Coast Mendocino Hospital. A ribbon-cutting and official opening is in the works for next week. The facility has been seeing clients for months in the building during regular hours and even at nights for crisis work. RCS has been searching for staff to allow voluntary mental health patients to stay in the facility 24/7 for up to 30 days. That’s what started Monday.
• The old Mendo Realty/Advocate News office at the north corner of Redwood and Cypress streets is being run by Mendocino Coast Clinics for programs dealing with opioid addiction, including the dispensing of Suboxone, which treats opioid addictions. The nearest methadone clinic is in Ukiah. Methadone produces a mild high and weans opioid users off other opioids. Subooxone does not produce its own high. In 2021, MCC got a $2+ million grant for its battle against opioids, especially fentanyl. Heroin is now gone from the streets, replaced by the stronger and deadlier fentanyl, often mixed with methamphetamine.
•The Fort Bragg Police Department has gotten a $345,363 opioid education and prevention grant to fund a county worker and contract success coaches in schools, where Police Chief Neil Cervenka said opioid abuse is being seen in younger and younger students.
• The Fort Bragg Police Department has now gotten its Care Response Unit (CRU) funded through the end of the year by the city after an exhaustive search of possibilities by Mayor Norvell and Police Chief Cervenka. During this search, the above opioid education grant was discovered and applied for. The CRU team members go out without police and offer homeless people and others alternatives to being arrested and direct people to services.
• Meanwhile the first permanent supporting housing for the homeless, the Plateau, is in its sixth month, with many residents living indoors for the first time in many years. Read more about that in our previous coverage of the new housing project.
• The City of Fort Bragg has launched a community land trust, Housing Mendocino Coast, which recently purchased its first affordable housing unit, in a four-unit project built by Charlie Dimmock on Whipple Street that was intended to provide affordable housing a decade ago. The new plan is for the trust to pay part of the purchase price and get that money back when a property sells, but the homeowner is able to grow equity. There are big plans for new housing projects designed to help the likes of teachers and medical personnel buy houses locally, with the city working with schools and local medical providers. Mayor Norvell has said that following the Plateau, his efforts and the city’s are directed to providing badly needed workforce housing.
• Meanwhile, new statewide and local law enforcement efforts are ramping up against fentanyl use.. Statewide, Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed are leading the crackdown on fentanyl.
Mayor Norvell has taken the lead in pushing for solutions from all sides, from conservative hero Robert Marbut to the progressive ideas of Steve Fields of the Progress Foundation, which Norvell says led to the mental health respite center. Norvell details how this effort by the city led to a collaboration with the county, which has a social services department (the city does not) that has improved working relations between the city and county on all these issues on the Coast, which don’t stop or start at city limits.
The recent clearing of visible homeless camps in the city and an effective crackdown on panhandling also came from an effort led by Norvell, the council and the police department. The city has taken a novel approach to streamline code enforcement, police response and strong encouragement to use social services. But critics say that none of this can work unless homeless services become even more streamlined and more emphasis is placed on housing and jobs.
The heart of all homeless services in the city is led by an old-timer, the Hospitality Center. Like the state and federal government and virtually all homeless nonprofits, the Hospitality Center works within the Housing First paradigm. Housing First was a strategy for dealing with the homeless that was implemented during the George W. Bush Administration. Housing First said a homeless person must first be able to access a decent, safe place to live that does not limit length of stay (permanent housing), before efforts can be made towards stabilizing, improving health, reducing harmful behaviors, or increasing income. The approach was credited with reducing homelessness 30% even as a banking and economic collapse occurred, but homeless numbers began to rise again over the ensuing decade. This created a backlash led by Marbut among others, who has consulted with thousands of agencies and led homeless efforts for President Donald Trump, and briefly, President Joe Biden. Marbut’s approach centers on ending free food programs and pressuring the homeless into recovery programs.
Churches played a bigger role prior to the pandemic and now hope to get more involved. Former Hospitality House clients can be seen working long hours in important local jobs, although you would likely never hear that from them, due to stigmas attached to homelessness and a myriad of other human conditions.
Hospitality Center CEO Paul Davis has only praise for the new innovations in services: “The City of Fort Bragg, and particularly the Police Department, have been invaluable in keeping the local Winter Shelter alive. This year, with the addition of the CRU team, the whole Winter Shelter operation ran more smoothly and with fewer hoops for those experiencing homelessness to jump through.”
Davis was particularly pleased with the police department’s CRU team. “We work closely with the CRU team as they identify and contact folks in the community to assist them with their needs. Many of those folks have not contacted us, and the CRU team is able to bring them by, do a warm handoff with our staff, and then continue to be part of the wrap-around team that can help the person work on their barriers.”
Davis welcomes all approaches to serving the homeless.
“Housing First is a methodology that, like anything else, has its assets and issues. It also depends on the area that you are implementing Housing First in. For example, urban areas may not necessarily have the same issues as rural areas, the same funding resources, the same housing inventory, etc. So really, serving people best will require a variety of approaches depending on the makeup of the community you are serving. The Hospitality House is a low barrier to entry shelter. We expect very little from someone to get in. After entry we do expect, among other things, that you are working on whatever barriers are keeping you from housing. That could be mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, employment, and so on. The threshold for ‘working on’ is reasonable, and services can be offered through any agency in town, not just MCHC. If you refuse to do anything, we will likely exit you for a while and you can try again in the future. I’d like to add that in 2022, 53 adults exited our homeless programs to a permanent housing situation, 11 of whom have children under 18.”
Davis provided a breakdown of the programs Hospitality Center provides:
The Hospitality House Emergency Shelter (237 N McPherson) – 24 beds, residents can be there up to 180 days and receive 2 meals per day. Residents are required to participate[ate in programs/activities that help address their barriers to housing. The shelter also provides services to people who are not currently staying there: one community meal per day Mon-Fri, an additional meal on Tuesday/Thursday, shower, and laundry facilities Mon-Fri with a free clothing closet available. The Hospitality House has run approximately 96% full over 12 months, and 100% full on Winter Shelter open nights.
Transitional Housing -The Hospitality Center also manages 24 transition beds between two properties, where former shelter clients congregate living, participants pay rent of 30% of their income and 10% of that is held in savings and returned when they leave. The program has two target demos: Families with children under 18 and single adults suffering mental illness who are receiving Mental Health Recovery Services. Participants can stay a maximum of 24 months, with agreements issued in 12-month increments. Participants have a Case Plan and are required to be working on acquiring permanent housing, which staff assists with.
Supportive Services Programs at the Hospitality Center – Programs and services at the Center are available to homeless people – case management, classes and groups, Housing Navigation, housing financial assistance programs, homeless resource center, etc. The Wellness Center and Specialty Mental Health Clinic, while not specifically limited to people experiencing homelessness, are valuable resources for the local unhoused.
Parents and Friends provides much-needed Alzheimer’s care facility
One new facility is desperately needed by an entirely different clientele, those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The project now being built on Cypress Street will serve anyone with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Depending on the extent of their illness, those people fall outside the mental health system and normally the legal system also, even when exhibiting threatening behavior. There are few places for them to be placed, especially since the pandemic. In 2017, the City of Fort Bragg was awarded a $3.4 million state grant for the design, construction, and administration of the Parents and Friends Residential Care Facility. Initially, the project was to include three separate units, each housing up to four residents, for a total of 12 people. Due to COVID-19 delays and price increases, the construction phase of the project was scaled down to one unit. However, designs and plans for all three units are still viable, and Parents and Friends Inc. (PFI) is actively seeking additional funding to construct the remaining two units. There was a hiccup when an underground storage tank was found. At Monday’s Fort Bragg City Council meeting, the council voted to increase SHN Consulting Engineers and Geologists contract for the project by $55,460. The company has provided technical services to the project and is needed to continue to do so.
PFI primarily has been serving developmentally disabled clients on the coast for over 60 years. Many of its clients have been in the programs since early youth and now are becoming senior citizens. PFI also operates another four-bed facility for elderly developmentally disabled people. The opening date for the new facility for Alzheimer’s patients will be up to various state licensing agencies such as The Regional Center. PFI CEO Sage Statham says the hope is that the remaining paperwork takes no more than three months.
Respite center gets ready for residential clients
On Monday, Fort Bragg’s new respite center for mental health recovery will begin the process of admitting patients. It’s a place where three to four patients in mental health crises can stay to benefit from rest and respite and treatment. For months, the center has already been providing in-office crisis and counseling services. Currently, mental patients can get in-office crisis mental health help from Redwood Community Services at the respite center, but Monday marks the start of taking on residents who can stay for up to 30 days, get treatment designed to keep them out of crisis, and come and go when they wish.
Redwood Community Services (RCS), whose revenue rose from around $11 million a decade ago to around $21 million (according to information obtained from GuideStar nonprofit records), has always been media-shy. They have not returned calls over the course of the past several months. Mayor Norvell has been the one to announce everything so far, although RCS is the operator of the new respite center and almost everything else mental health-related in the county.
Right now if a person is exhibiting, bizarre, threatening or suicidal behavior, they can be removed from their situation by law enforcement and taken to the hospital rather than to jail and kept there in custody in a non-arrested status known by its health and safety code 5150. For up to 72 hours (and more if needed) patients are evaluated by RCS personnel, medically stabilized by the hospital and then sent home or to an out-of-area mental hospital for treatment. RCS provides in-office crisis counseling before admittance and after release from the hospital and is available 24 hours per day. This has been the only way of dealing with suicidal or dangerous mental patients since 2000 when the county’s inpatient facility, known as the PUFF, was closed by the Board of Supervisors. Inland, RCS now offers two respite centers, Madrone House in Redwood Valley and Phoenix House, which opened in 2022 in Ukiah. The county tried providing services itself several times, hired a different contractor which stirred up more controversy, and finally settled on RCS to provide services.
RCS started in the late 1960s as a foster care agency (according to legal filings), then progressed into providing a wider range of children’s services, including mental health services. In recent years, RCS took over virtually all the mental health services in the county and is funded by taxpayer dollars. The 2020 tax return for RCS, listed with ProPublica, shows 98.4 percent of its income comes from contributions (which includes government monies). RCS brought in $18.5 million in contributions and $153,516 in program services income.
Although there is still no resident psychiatrist on the coast and staffing challenges remain, Norvell is proud of an effort that he says took three years due to both red tape and lack of support from those he expected would help. He would not elaborate on what that was.
“With RCS able to consolidate its offices and willing to pay for the remodel, Adventist Health offering a more than fair lease arrangement, half the battle was already fought and won,” Norvell said. “An essential aspect of the services was ensuring that nobody was turned away based on insurance or financial means. With written support from the community, Senator Mike McGuire, and Assemblymember Jim Wood, I successfully lobbied Measure B and the Board of Supervisors to subsidize the facility and ensure services for the first four years. We eventually returned with $960,000 of Measure B funds for four years to ensure no one will be left behind.”
Norvell pointed to Ukiah’s Phoenix House as a success and said, “The City of Fort Bragg and the coast now will have its own four-bed soon-to-be successful respite. One [Phoenix House] came with a price tag of roughly $4 million to the taxpayer, the other $960,000. The significant difference in cost came from the hard work and dedication put into this project, utilizing my networking, collaborative and solution-based approach, and, of course, keeping government bureaucracy and red tape to a minimum. Funding always takes a majority vote for approval, so showing up prepared and with a solid plan can make all the difference in success.”
Fort Bragg police department gets grant for success coaches to help kids resist fentanyl
Fort Bragg Police Chief Neil Cervenka said Mendocino County has an opioid overdose rate three times the state average, with overdoses the second highest in the state. Individuals with a substance abuse disorder represent a disproportionately large cost to the criminal justice and public health systems.
The Fort Bragg Police Department was the only police department in the state to get a new youth opioid abuse education and prevention grant for $345,363. When a person ages 12-24 with a substance abuse disorder is referred to the emerging new program, Social Services Liaisons will work with them to find the extent of the problem, barriers, insurance, and rehabilitation options. The grant will fully fund one (County) Social Services Liaison and pay the hourly rate for “Success Coaches.”
What is a success coach? Someone working directly with the youth over a period of time. Says a press release from Cervenka: “FBPD Captain Thomas O’Neal worked with Social Services Liaison Janette Ornelas and local Success Coach Bethany Brewer on a new way of attacking the problem. What began as an idea to get those just arrested into rehabilitation, grew to an idea that involved kids, education, and prevention. Bethany Brewer and her team of Success Coaches will follow up regularly before, during and after rehabilitation to assist the client with challenges and barriers that often lead to relapse. The Success Coaches will be contract employees working for the Police Department. Success Coaches will form youth advisory councils to try to find the help young people need. The program will also have an important educational aspect about the dangers of opioids not just for students but their families and others. Kids, adults, and school staff will be trained on the use of Narcan, which is easy to administer and has very little risk. However, not using Narcan during an overdose can be deadly.”
Some have privately criticized the in your face approach of the CRU or said the team can only be as good as the servies it refers people to. The city has provided statistics about the CRU. During the six-month period evaluated in 2022, CRU opened 485 cases and served 140 different people, a city staff report stated. They reconnected ten homeless individuals with family or friends in other areas through the use of the Homeward Bound bus ticket program (which gave newly arrived homeless and those deemed not be from Fort Bragg one night at the winter shelter, then worked with them to send them where they have support services. .An additional 22 non-local individuals were assisted with funds for fuel for their vehicles so they could get back to their families, city statistics show. CRU facilitated in getting three people suffering from substance abuse into in-patient rehabilitation. Two of those individuals completed their in-patient programs and are currently in sober living environments. Eight others are currently being assisted and CRU is actively working to find placement.
Mendocino County is in the process of building a 14 bed mental health facility called a PHF, to create a new structure that will replace an abandoned nursing home the county bought during Covid’s worst days, to house overflows. The Psychiatric Health Facility PHF is being planned in conjunction with more crisis recovery beds. The Fort Bragg respite center has no plans to offer locked in patients or some of the other services of a crisis center.
The fact of the matter, despite all the public statements, is that a rift continues among traditional providers and the new wave of grant funded programs that are changing much for now, but can it continue. In a town whose streets were populated by hobos in the 1930s and by Hippies in the 1960s, is there still room for newcomers who arrive at the bottom (but often work their way up). Must homeless accept services? And if so, which ones? The next big issue may be whether resistant people can be compelled to participate in mental health, homeless, and drug abuse programs. The Newsom administration favors using mechanisms like a Care Court, where people can be diverted from the legal system but can’t walk away from treatment. Newsom also favors many solutions that are resisted by more liberal members of his party, especially civil libertarians, but favored widely by people of all political stripes who work with the addicted, the homeless and mentally ill people.
For example, there is one individual in Fort Bragg that people have tried to help for a decade. Much time and money has been spent to get him rehabilitation for an alcohol problem that often renders him unconscious. Police, Hospitality House and county social workers have worked hard to get him into rehabilitation. When people do get him into rehab, he walks away after the first week. When this reporter saw him in town I asked, “Did you want to come back to the streets?”
He said, “Hell no, but I wanted a drink.” And that may be a problem that haunts any help program, new or decades-old. But caregivers must have optimism that some of those suffering crave a way past the problems that have hampered their lives.