Eureka, calif. (KIEM)- Last month the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) gave a presentation to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors about the homelessness population in Humboldt County. The presentation discussed the most recent point in time (PIT) count done last January. This was the first PIT done since 2019 due to Covid-19. The objective of this survey is to get a rough estimate of the homeless population in the county.
The newest survey showed some distinct changes that happened over the last three years. We talked to Robert Ward, The Housing and Assistance Coordinator for DHHS about the newest survey.
“We saw a significant decrease in the unsheltered count and we saw increases in certain categories like serious mental illness, substance use disorder, chronic homelessness,” said Ward.
The ratio of income compared to housing cost is a possible factor leading to the high rates of homelessness we see here in Humboldt County according to .
“It comes down to the cost of housing versus people’s ability to pay,” said Ward. “And that’s been there’s been an imbalance there in Humboldt County and throughout California for quite a while.”
Ward said possible solutions to this would be to,
“…Either increase people’s ability to pay or decrease the cost of housing or some combination of the two, and some people also need very significant supportive services, behavioral health services, to help them stabilize in housing and retain housing.”
The Betty Kwan Chinn foundation in Eureka is a non-profit that aims to help the persistent epidemic of homelessness in Humboldt county.
The founder and director of the foundation, Betty Chinn says that the major culprit for chronic homelessness is mental health issues and drug use.
“Right now, I think we really need a mental health system for this… We need a lot of help in that area…they are facing a city here or even sitting in Eureka City or Arcata sometimes on a street…that is the problem. It’s not just like we find a house for them and say Oh, we did it all. We got it.”
She explains that housing is not the sole solution, additionally there needs to be attention paid to mental health problems.
“They don’t know how to detach the lifestyle. If you leave them in a house they are going to destroy the property. So we need some training before the people move the house so they can stay in the house and others longer. Luckily, if not, the cycle will just keep going and going.”
Chinn and Humboldt County often work together to get people off the streets.
“After Covid, the two years I learned so much, I work so well with the county or city, particularly the county. When I ask them for something, they always help me out with special needs things I can’t do, like a mental health assessment. When I call them up, they know I have not just got somebody, I have somebody that really needs to help.”
Building strong relationships between nonprofit organizations and the county seems to be one of the main solutions posed for Humboldt County’s high rate of homelessness.
You can access various agencies and nonprofits in Humboldt county here: