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Santa Rosa seeks reopening of armory shelter

  • Homeless men line up to spend the night at the National Guard Armory in Santa Rosa in 1999. (PD FILE, 1999)

Santa Rosa City Council members agreed Tuesday to pursue the reopening of the National Guard Armory as a homeless shelter this winter.

Freezing temperatures and a shortage of beds for the homeless prompted council members to ask staff members to contact the state to see if the armory can be put to use again as a temporary shelter.

The consensus came during a study session as the council reviewed the existing inventory of shelter beds, homeless services and affordable housing.

"We are demonstrating as a community we do respond," Mayor Scott Bartley said. "Yes, there's always more to do, but we do respond."

The armory was closed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for use by the National Guard, said Dave Gouin, the city's director of economic development and housing.

"It's a shame to have the facility just sitting there," Councilman Gary Wysocky said.

"Anything we can do to get people off the street -- there are families out there with small children," said Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, a recent new mother who cradled her baby during the meeting.

City officials agreed there is a need for more affordable housing to help people move out of emergency shelters.

The half-dozen homeless shelters in Santa Rosa, which have a total of 417 beds, are at capacity and waiting lists are long, Gouin said.

Compounding the problem are a lack of affordable housing units in the city and an overall apartment vacancy rate of just 1 percent.

People in shelters are waiting to get into affordable housing, which will free up beds in shelters. But with record-high rents, few people are able to do so. As a result, officials say, those living on the streets have even less ability to transition into housing.

A snapshot of the homeless population last winter in Santa Rosa revealed 670 in shelters or transitional beds and 1,700 living outside, said Jenny Abramson, a coordinator with the Sonoma County Housing Authority.

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