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PD Editorial: A forum on the county's lost residents

  • Catholic Charities Site Coordinator Aaron McClymonds, left, and volunteer Erin Anderson assemble a propane heater at a warming station for the homeless. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

In a recent Sonoma magazine story (“Lost in paradise,” January-February edition), Staff Writer Jeremy Hay tracked the lives of some of those who are appearing more frequently among Sonoma County's ranks of homeless — young adults and teenagers.

As Hay noted in his story, just six of the 584 emergency shelter beds in the county are set aside for homeless teens and only seven temporary beds are available for former foster youth. And yet this is the fastest growing segment of the county's estimated 4,280 homeless residents.

According to recent counts, the number of people 24 years old and younger who are homeless in Sonoma County has risen from 268 in 2009 to 1,128 in 2013.

In 2009, Sonoma County was home to 93 homeless children between the ages of 12 and 17. By last year, that number was up to 277.

Why?

That's one of the questions we will be asking this evening at a free public forum in downtown Santa Rosa on the many issues of homelessness in Sonoma County.

The panelists for this Press Democrat-Sonoma magazine forum, titled “Lost in Paradise,” include:

• Jennielynn Holmes, the director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities.

• Acting Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder.

• Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose district includes downtown Santa Rosa.

• Matt Martin, executive director of Social Advocates for Youth.

• Mike Johnson, CEO of the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS) in Petaluma.

• Charles Jensen, founder of a transitional housing complex for veterans and a Bennett Valley resident.

• Chuck Cornell, executive director of Burbank Housing.

Hay also will be on hand to discuss his article and what he discovered in chronicling the lives of young adults living on the streets.

Press Democrat Executive Editor Catherine Barnett and Editorial Director Paul Gullixson will ask questions of the panelists, after which members of the audience will be invited to contribute their questions and comments about the issues.

We anticipate that part of the discussion will be — and should be — about the SAY Dream Center proposed for the former Warrack Hospital at Hoen Avenue and Summerfield Road. The center would serve up to 63 youths ages 18 to 24 who are now homeless or are transitioning out of the foster care program. But, despite initial approval from the city's Planning Commission, it still faces some strong opposition from neighbors.

However, this is just part of the overall problem — and just one of the potential solutions. What more can and should be done to confront homelessness?

Join us for this community discussion at 5 p.m. today at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa.

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