Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023 @ 4:16 p.m. / Homelessness, Local Government

County Supervisors Unanimously Declare Shelter Crisis in Del Norte, Four Endorse Pallet Home Plan to Solve Homelessness

The pallet home community is slated to go on county property on Williams Drive near juvenile hall. | screenshot

Committee Shares Ambitious Vision for Combating Homelessness Using Those With 'Lived Experience'


Joey Borges and his colleagues declared a shelter crisis in Del Norte County on Tuesday.

The declaration is necessary in the latest effort to help the unhoused find a path out of homelessness, County Counsel Joel Campbell Blair told supervisors. It allows the county to use pallet homes to house program participants, though they may not be allowable under the county building code. It also provides a CEQA exemption and a bit of immunity for some negligence, Campbell-Blair said.

But Borges was the sole vote of opposition toward pursuing the grant advocates say is necessary to blaze that path to permanent housing for at least 200 people. He said he was concerned about putting those pallet homes on county-owned property on Williams Drive near juvenile hall.

“It makes me feel not great when we see a kids’ basketball court covered with pallet homes. It seems like we’re working on the wrong end,” Borges said. “Then you have the fairgrounds. It’ll create pathways of travel through youth riding horses, and CalFire’s there and there’s low-income housing on the other side. To me, I don’t know if that would be the best location.”

The Board of Supervisors’ 4-1 vote will allow the Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services to apply for Encampment Resolution Funding dollars by Feb. 28.
Funded through the California Interagency Council on Homelessness, there are $240 million available statewide, said Alison Ramsay, of True North Organizing Network, one of the county’s partners.

That money — $7 million to $8 million — would pay for start-up and operating costs for a year-round emergency shelter, a pallet home village and two navigational centers that will steer people toward mental health treatment, addiction counseling, job training and other services, Ramsay said.

“Pallet homes are not made out of wooden pallets,” she said. “They’re portable homes that arrive on pallets — up to 30 on a truck. They can be built in as little as an hour. They’re movable. It’s a quick, affordable solution for interim housing.”

Williams Drive was attractive because the county already owns it and it’s out of the coastal zone, Ramsay said. The county’s homelessness ad-hoc committee identified two other properties in the Elk Valley area, but a coastal development permit would be needed to develop them.

Ramsay said those properties could be used for a “stage 2,” but it could take two years to get those permits from the California Coastal Commission.

A proposed pallet home community would be a key component of a multifaceted plan to address homelessness in Del Norte County. | screenshot

The county’s other partners include True North Organizing Network, Del Norte Mission Possible and Arcata House Partnership.

One of the county’s goals is to clean up two large encampments near Waldo Street, Ramsay said. The state is looking to purchase them because they’re wetlands that house rare and endangered species, she said. But its residents need a place to go.

About 30 percent of the people who live in those encampments are under 25 years old, said Daphne Cortese-Lambert, founder of Del Norte Mission Possible.  Roughly 15 percent are tribal members. The population also includes pregnant women and senior citizens, she said.

“I think what’s important is what is not listed here; it includes those who have aged out of the foster care system,” said Cortese Lambert, who worked with those who have experienced homeless to conduct the 2022 and 2023 Point-in-Time counts. “When I was doing the PIT counts in those encampments, I was amazed at how many youths are aging out of the foster care system and are ending up in those encampments, and people who have developmental delays and those who are disabled. Even when we present them with outreach that says, ‘Here, let’s send you here,’ they can’t navigate those services.”

The 60-bed emergency shelter is slated for the old Our Daily Bread Ministries building at 1135 Harrold Street. Cortese-Lambert said that’s where people in the program will start their journey as it provides the most intense case management as well as a safe place for their belongings.

If they show progress, they’ll then graduate to the pallet home village, which has less intense case management. Del Norte Mission Possible is working with Arcata House, which is providing a curriculum to teach life skills and budgeting skills.

Peer support mentors are also a huge component of the program, Cortese-Lambert said, saying it’s those same people she worked with to conduct the PIT count as well as to help clean up the encampments.

“I don’t load that garbage; I have unhoused individuals load that garbage,” she said. “They’re fighting to help me. They’re wanting to do better and they’re seeing there is an opportunity.”

But Borges continued to oppose the proposed Williams Drive location, despite Cortese-Lambert’s insistence that the pallet home community would include access to drug treatment programs.

“If you have an encampment or a pallet home there’s the potential for a lot of drug use,” Borges said. “And then we have questionable youth already having a hard time in life passing through the area multiple times a day who are just one step away from maybe taking a right into that encampment.”

Borges’ concerns were shared by a handful of community members, including Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman. He asked to be included in the discussion, saying he had last spoken about homelessness with United Methodist Church Pastor Dana Gill Port who was part of a 2021 proposal to build a tiny house village for the homeless at the Williams Drive location.

Though the former juvenile hall building doesn’t house youth currently, Reyman said he does use the property for training.

“I don’t want to be forgotten,” he said. “That piece of property you’re looking at, my department uses on a weekly basis. We offer programs and classes for our offenders, adult offenders, as well as training for my staff.”

Paul Dillard, chairman of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission, also questioned how big the pallet home community would be. Bringing up Reyman’s ongoing recommendations to shutter Del Norte County’s 24-7 juvenile detention facility, Dillard said it would still be used for juvenile programs.

Calling the proposed pallet home program an “encampment,” Dillard said he didn’t support the proposed Williams Drive location.

“You can’t have these kids walking by a homeless encampment. That doesn’t make sense,” Dillard said. “To do what you’re saying is to say, ‘Kids don’t matter,’ and I’m going to fight that one ‘cause I’m here for the kids.”

District 5 Supervisor Dean Wilson, who sits on the county’s homelessness ad-hoc committee, said the Williams Drive location will allow law enforcement to clean up homelessness encampments that are “causing nothing but problems.”

Wilson referred to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2019 Martin v. Boise ruling, which states homeless people can’t be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are no alternatives.

“It gives people who do want to take advantage a place to help them transition,” he said. “But what you’re going to find, there is a percentage, maybe 30 percent will take advantage of what we have to offer, it’s the other 70 percent that are causing a lot of problems in our community. It’ll give law enforcement tools to be able to deal with that.”

According to Del Norte County’s 2022 Point-in-Time count, 462 individuals identified as homeless. At a homelessness ad-hoc committee meeting Feb. 1, the county’s housing services manager, Roy Jackson, said this year that PIT figure could be nearly 600.


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