The county must come up with better emergency plans for housing the homeless during bad weather, Sonoma County supervisors said Tuesday.
The board approved a $179,750 package of proposals to add temporary cold weather bed space between now and the end of March and to help families get back into permanent homes on Tuesday, but members said they wanted to see better long-term planning by staff on how to deal with such emergencies.
Several supervisors suggested allowing homeless people to sleep in their vehicles in the parking lots at the county administration complex. Sleeping in vehicles in most places in the county has been banned by a series of recent ordinances.
"I think we need to have more flexibility" to find space for the homeless in severe weather, said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, "even if that means being in port-a-potties or having private security for that matter."
Supervisor Shirlee Zane asked county staff to come back soon with specific cost estimates for using the parking lots and other county facilities as emergency housing.
"We have these massive vacant parking lots in these four blocks" after business hours, she said. "It is a shame we can't put in a port-a-potty and hand washing station."
Mark Krug, community development manager for the county Community Development Commission, told the supervisors that many of the county's efforts to stop homelessness are oriented to longer-term issues, such as finding houses and supportive social and health care services for the chronically homeless.
The spike of cold weather in December highlighted the need for better planning and coordination for short-term needs, he said, like rapidly expanding temporary bed space to keep the homeless out of dangerous weather.
Board members asked him to consider a variety of related issues in drafting such plans, including how to provide bed space for people who are intoxicated or are accompanied by pets. Many time such people are turned away from shelters, staff said.
Chairman David Rabbitt praised the long-term efforts to help the homeless, but he said the county also should do its best to provide a temporary bed for everyone who needs one, particularly in bad weather.
"These other things are great," he said, "but maybe we need to start with 'safe and alive in the morning.'"