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Drugs, crime and homelessness addressed in Southern Humboldt town hall meeting

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REDWAY- "There was a time when anybody who wanted to do anything said well, we just have to wait until 5 and we have a free platform to do whatever we want. And that's not going to happen anymore," said 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell at a town hall meeting Thursday night.

The mood was much different in Redway Elementary School's gymnasium Thursday night than that just six months ago. Last June, a town hall meeting was held with Supervisor Estelle Fennell and Sheriff Mike Downey after citizens petitioned the lack of law enforcement coverage in the area. At that meeting, the community addressed rampant drug issues and transient violence, as well as a lack of police support. 

"The first meeting, people were extremely frustrated," Fennell said. "They were sort of telling their stories and there were some incredibly compelling stories. Today I saw people thinking more of, well what can we do about it. "

Since last June's meeting, the sheriff has implemented an overlapping shift schedule where twice a month a problem oriented policing unit can focus on those issues, leading to searches at several identified drug houses. However, at Thursday's town hall meeting, citizen said those solutions were not enough.

"On our streets nothing has changed," Miranda resident Debra Carey said. "We still don't have any place for people to be safe, warm and dry. And people are still, there's no place for people to go to the bathroom, we have no shelter, so we're still struggling in this community and we're working on that."

 At Thursday's town hall meeting, citizens worked with law enforcement and the district attorney to find further solutions.

"Some of the main points people brought up were the issue of drug sales and drug use," Sgt. Jesse Taylor with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office said. "There's definitely an element down here in Southern Humboldt that needs to be addressed and I plan on doing that. Homelessness and transient issues and the problems that come along with those. Those are some things I think, quite honestly, that people are fed up with. I have some ideas and plans in place to address those some of those things." 

Rampant methamphetamine and heroin use, dirty streets and an up tick of crime, including home invasions, were issues brought before Southern Humboldt's newest sergeant Jesse Taylor. Sergeant Taylor begins his new position Sunday and comes in at a time when law enforcement is desperately needed in the area.

"As a parent of 2 little boys, What do you do as a parent and you call 911 and they don't come right away?" one local resident asked.

Undersheriff Bill Honsal's advice: lock your homes, ensure your property is well lit and install surveillance equipment like cameras on your property. According to the undersheriff, having a dog on the property can also be an effective deterrent.

But even with the new law enforcement presence, the sheriff's office says that won't be enough. Citizens in Southern Humboldt were urged to join neighborhood watches and to organize on their own to help deter crime in their communities.

"I think this is a good second step," Redway resident Darryl Cherney said. "I think that Sheriff Downey and the deputies hear the concerns of the community. The community is hearing the concerns of each other and so I think the more we talk to each other the more likely we will take action."

With the passage of Measure Z, the new county wide sales tax, the sheriff's office says it hopes to hire more deputies. Some of which will be sent to patrol Southern Humboldt beginning late summer.