By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

The new resource center in Gold Beach near the jail is up and running, according to Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA) Curry Services Coordinator and Curry Homeless Coalition President Beth Barker-Hidalgo.

Hidalgo updated the Local Public Safety Coordinating Committee on the center at its March meeting, saying the center was working on its fifth referral and aiding individuals with their Oregon Health Plan renewals or sign-ups in conjunction with Curry Community Health (CCH), providing showers by appointment and housing the United Way, Western Oregon Advanced Health and the South Coast Business Employment Corporation (SCBEC).

SCBEC aids people with job services, and those enrolled in their services at the center can access clothes and other needs.

She said the center would host a grand opening May 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and she said she hoped the center would grow “like a snowball.” She noted the center was not just for released inmates but anyone in need.

Sheriff John Ward encouraged Hidalgo to advocate for inmates to retain their OHP benefits for at least their first 30 days of incarceration.

“I mean, they are not convicted of anything,” he said, “and when they come in, they are often high, and a lot of times they end up at Curry General and the county is on the hook for that.”

Hidalgo said she was aware of the county’s difficulties with inmate health care costs and costs associated with inmates and the homeless. She referred to a man locally known as “our own Million Dollar Murray,” a reference to a New Yorker Magazine article chronicling the costs of just one homeless man in Reno, Nevada. The man racked up medical bills exceeding $100,000 at one hospital in one year.

Sutter Coast Hospital in Del Norte County was looking to house a man in Curry County and pay his rent because his hospital costs were being exacerbated by homelessness, according to Hidalgo. She estimated his ER trips with an ambulance, care and discharge at $5,000 each and said he was going to Sutter Coast two to three times a week over the last couple of months.

Sequential Intercept Mapping

CCH CEO Ken Dukek reported CCH was moving ahead with plans to apply the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) in the county as a way to engage with the allegedly mentally ill and divert them from the justice system and incarceration and into treatment.

The SIM model targets four points of entry, including at crisis intervention, the emergency room, jail and court, Dukek said. He added CCH would work with stakeholders within the next 90 days to train them to help intercept and divert those with mental health issues from the criminal justice system and jail.

“The goal is to keep people (those needing treatment) in the community,” he said, “and to get them into supported employment where they can be supported as they work toward a career choice.”

Housing for professionals

Dukek commended Hidalgo on her work with the Curry Housing Task Force and said housing is a huge issue in Curry County.

“It’s so bad that as we recruit new folks — 31 new positions over five years,” he said, “we have had to rent a house so they have 90 to 180 days to find housing.”

According to the CCH Facebook page, the nonprofit is seeking applicants for six professional jobs including case manager, tobacco prevention education coordinator, supported employment specialist, behavioral health assistant, addictions counselor and a mental health therapist.

Former CCH board member Jay Trost — at a housing meeting in Brookings — said CCH could recruit from all over and draw talent, but “two out of three recruits didn’t stick,” due to housing issues.

Suicide prevention

Veterans advocate Connie Hunter introduced William Wasson and Gary Marquardt of the Veterans Administration (VA). Marquardt said he was there to introduce himself in his new role as a Veterans Justice Outreach specialist. He will be working with the sheriff’s office in Curry county to support veterans in the jail.

Wasson — who works in suicide prevention for the VA — and Hunter announced the VA was working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Shooting Sports Foundation to prevent veteran suicides and to ensure that firearms are stored safely in their homes and that veterans in crisis do not have access to firearms.

The VA reported, “. . . environmental factors, such as access to lethal means, increase the risk of suicide. Firearms are one of the most deadly and common methods of suicide among Americans –– particularly service members and veterans.”

Hunter and Wasson said they would work with the sheriff, law enforcement and county commissioners to establish the VA’s program in the county as it is developed.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at