EUREKA, Calif. — The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released three reports today discussing the state of eldercare, child welfare and the county jail, three years into the pandemic.
The reports delve into the challenges the county has faced in providing services to residents amid the pandemic and highlighted a series of ongoing issues -- most notably, Humboldt County’s lack of psychiatric care, the underreporting of elder abuse and the need for better collaboration with tribal governments in child abuse cases.
Elder Abuse and Homelessness
The "Elder Abuse and Senior Homelessness Report" sheds light on the growing number of people seniors in Humboldt County who are victims of elder abuse or are experiencing homelessness.
“For seniors already on the streets, the ability to prioritize them for immediate shelter is vital,” the report states. “As of this writing, there are no emergency beds or shelters set aside exclusively for homeless seniors in Humboldt County.”
According to the report, many seniors – people 65-years-of-age or older -- are avoiding shelters because they are concerned about shelter safety. The Grand Jury is asking the county to pursue grant funding from the state to address the lack of senior-specific housing and emergency shelters.
The Grand Jury also cites concerns about the underreporting of elder abuse in the county and said Adult Protective Services can do more to bring awareness to the frequency of abuse. It recommends all law enforcement agencies add a prominent elder abuse reporting link and number on their websites by December 31 of this year.
While the issue of elder abuse persists, the county has seen a “substantial improvement” in both prosecutions and convictions of elder abuse cases, thanks to Measure Z dollars, a half-cent sales tax passed by Humboldt County voters in 2014.
The Grand Jury’s report titled, "Custody, Corrections and other County Facilities" noted that despite efforts to recruit staff, The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is struggling to attract qualified staff to manage its jail–in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and high cost of living.
According to the report, there have also been some safety concerns within the jail. The most obvious is COVID-19. The county responded to the public health threat by implementing a quarantine policy in 2020. Inmates who tested positive for the virus are placed in isolation cells.
The facility only saw one severe case of COVID-19 that required hospitalization, according to the report.
Mental health was the other top concern. The Grand Jury discussed the county’s worsening mental health crisis in is 2018-2019 report but they are saying the situation has only become more severe.
Sempervirens, Humboldt County’s acute psychiatric hospital, cannot house inmates and has just 16 beds, which is not enough to even serve the general public. Humboldt County Jail has been serving as a de facto psychiatric facility since 90% of its inmates have mental health conditions. Inmate assaults are up by more than 50%, from 2020-2021, according to the report.
“This creates a potentially unsafe environment for officers and inmates,” the report states. “Seven years ago, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury recommended the installation of safety netting between floors as a fall and suicide prevention safety measure. Per leadership, this netting should be installed by November 2022.”
The report also highlights work that needs to be done in other county facilities including the County Animal Shelter, which doesn’t have enough kennels and the Office of Emergency Services, which needs upgrades.
Child Welfare Services
In its "Collaborative Community Quest" report, the Grand Jury found that more needs to be done to make sure Native American children are protected and supported in the county.
After sovereign nations alleged the Department of Health & Human Services-Child Welfare Services’ (DHHS-CWS) and Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office allegedly failed to comply with California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, the Grand Jury launched its own investigation.
“We have determined that while DHHS-CWS and HCSO have made notable progress toward collaboration with area Native American tribes, this mandated corrective action continues to be a challenge in the areas of joint decision making, cross-reporting, communication involving child welfare policies, and oft-opposing philosophical perspectives,” the report stated. “CANRA compliance is therefore threatened as noted by County tribal representatives through documents obtained and interviews conducted by this Grand Jury.”
The Grand Jury is calling on the Board of Supervisors to create an independent Office of Tribal Affairs by January 1, 2023, to help increase communication between tribal communities and county government entities. According to the report, such an office would help address child protection, social services and justice issues in a more effective, culturally informed way.
The full reports can be found on the county's website.