City of Eureka working to reduce homeless population

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EUREKA- To address the City of Eureka’s homelessness and transient issue, city and county officials are working together to outline policies moving forward to reduce the homeless population. 

County officials estimate that in 2013, there were about 600 homeless people living in Eureka.  City officials say other than higher crime rates, homelessness negatively impacts the city by reducing tourism.

"We also receive a lot of negative comments from visitors to Eureka.  People who have come and stayed in hotels and have said that they won't be back because there's a perception that the community is not as safe as it could be.  I think most people don't want to be panhandled to when they're on vacation," said Greg Sparks, the City Manager of Eureka.

Now, as part of the General Plan Update process, staff with the City of Eureka and their consultants, the Department of Health and Human Services, emergency officials in Eureka, service providers and others have worked together to draft a policy paper.  The paper outlines ways to address the homeless issue in Eureka moving forward.

"The ultimate vision is that we have more people who want to be housed, will be housed, and the result of that will be less people on the streets during the day and at night, you'll see a reduction in crime, and quite frankly, a better utilization of resources," Sparks said.

The Police Chief of the Eureka Police Department, Andrew Mills, says the homeless issue in Eureka means more emergency resources getting tied up.

"We wind up responding frequently to the same people over and over again.  One gentleman we've arrested more than 100 times in one year.  And many of those times, he has to go to the hospital, which creates an extraordinary expense on top of it," said Police Chief Mills.

One recommendation in the policy paper is getting the top 10 to 15 people, who are generating the largest number of police and other emergency calls, into permanent supportive housing right away.

"All of these recommendations are very focused on getting people into housing and helping them into housing.  And hopefully, what our consultant was saying, once you can get people into this supportive housing, they tend to stay there and not become homeless again," said Lisa Shikany, the Principal Planner for the Community Development Department for the City of Eureka.

City staff will present the finalized policy paper to the council by the end of the month.  The council will then have to agree with the policies outlined before the paper is used as a guideline moving forward.