Housing Authority Chairman: Zero Tolerance Policy Needs Teeth

Humboldt County District Attorney Candidate Maggie Fleming, right, was in Hoopa for the KTAC meeting on Tuesday, March 4, to listen to community concerns. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Less than a month after the Hoopa Tribal Council proclaimed a zero tolerance policy against methamphetamines, heroin, and illegal sales of prescription drugs, community members called for even tougher anti-drug enforcement measures.

John Robbins, Hoopa Valley Housing Authority’s (HVHA) Board chairman, said he is encouraging the HVHA Board to drug test everyone living in tribal housing.

“We don’t do it now, but under the federal regulations, we’re allowed to,” Robbins told the audience in the Council chambers during the Klamath-Trinity Anti-drug Coalition (KTAC) meeting on Tuesday, March 4.

Others spoke out in favor of the plan, and about requiring substance-abuse counseling and rehabilitation for tenants who test positive for illegal drugs.

Hoopa Tribal Police Chief Robert Kane said people addicted to drugs need encouragement to turn their lives around. “They’re not bad people, they just have a problem.”

Audience members gave several examples of meth, heroin, and prescription drug addictions that ruin lives. Entire extended families struggle when a member is suffering from addiction, and the problem seems to be growing.

Sandra Lowry, meth prevention specialist with the Yurok Tribal Police Department, said a recent survey of Yurok tribal members – including many who live in and around the Hoopa Valley – showed how pervasive the problem is.

“When asked ‘how pervasive is meth in the community where you live?’ – 84 percent said it was extreme,” Lowry said. “There was a place for comments and people said heroin was getting worse too.”

“You have to address that because now elders are raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s really disheartening,” Kane said.

Robbins nodded. “There isn’t a family in this community who isn’t affected by this.”

KTAC member Norma McAdams said the area needs more resources to help addicts break free.

“We need aftercare; a safe place for people coming back from rehab to go to,” McAdams said. “They can’t go back home, because they’ll have family members living there using drugs so they’ll be back using drugs.”

Kane said treatment measures and aftercare would have to be tied with stronger enforcement – like the idea of linking tribal housing residency with being drug-free.

“I think it’s going to mesh with the banishment; it’s a step toward using banishment,” Kane said, adding that the Council needs to clarify how long banishment terms should last. “Are we going to do it for 5 years, 10 years, life?”

Robbins said, “Let’s put teeth in it so people know that this is what will happen if they do this. The exclusion ordinance has to have teeth in it.”

Bev Stevens said, “That’s what the Tribal Attorney said; there are all these ordinances but there’s no teeth.”

KTAC member Kadoo Henry nodded, and said that a Hoopa tribal member supposedly excluded from the reservation for selling drugs – after a nearly two-year-long appeals process – hadn’t really left.

“I see him every day on the way to work and I don’t know if he likes to taunt or not, but every time he sees me he waves,” Henry said.

Robbins said that if the Housing Authority Board does move forward with the plan to require tenants to undergo drug testing, it wouldn’t face the same long appeals process.

“We wouldn’t have to wait for your office to convict them; just being caught having it in their possession would be enough,” Robbins said to District Attorney Candidate Maggie Fleming.

Fleming, a Humboldt County prosecutor for over 17 years, was at Tuesday’s meeting to hear local community concerns.

Stevens said, “That would be a great step forward for all of us; you wouldn’t have low-income housing become centers for drug activity.”

McAdams said, “We need to make changes in our community. It’s going to take all of us holding the Council accountable to enforce all of these ordinances.”

Henry said, “We’ll probably have to set up a meeting with the Council to ask if they’re putting teeth into the exclusion ordinance.”

One of the main subjects brought up by audience and community members at the meeting was the need for more anti-drug education for youth in the Valley.

Henry said, “It’s a learned environment. They’re raised where Dad sitting around smoking a joint was normal behavior in their family, and it’s passed down from generation to generation.”

Kane said, “I say we should start by targeting younger kids – start in kindergarten.”

Several people suggested that those who once suffered from addiction and then turned their lives around would make great spokesmen and spokeswomen to help steer youth away from making the same mistakes.

“It was the choices they made that had consequences in their lives,” Kane said, “and we have big success stories here. Look at Leland Muro; before, he was the worst of the worst that I had to deal with, and now he’s going to be going to Humboldt State.”

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