Neighbors, advocates clash over proposed expansion of Santa Rosa women's shelter

  • Penney Sefton-Kelley pauses while using her cell phone to look for an apartment, Tuesday Sept. 3, 2013 at a women's shelter on Wild Rose Drive in Santa Rosa. Redwood Gospel Mission, who runs the shelter, wants to expand the shelter to include women undergoing addiction treatment. So far they have been denied the permit. Some neighbors are voicing their concerns over the proposed expansion. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Residents in a pocket of county land surrounded by west Santa Rosa say that plans to expand a women's homeless shelter would spoil the character of their quiet, leafy neighborhood.

But advocates for homeless women say they need more beds to accommodate an expanding population of vulnerable women.

The Redwood Gospel Mission currently houses 30 women at its shelter on Wild Rose Drive and wants to add 20 beds. As part of the plan, women undergoing an addiction recovery program would move to the shelter know as The Rose.

Neighbors opposed to the expansion lobbied Sonoma County's zoning board, which denied the shelter's permit request in March. The Board of Supervisors will hear an appeal on Tuesday.

"It was a tough call," said Tom Lynch, a member of the Board of Zoning Adjustments. "This is the most vulnerable sector of the homeless population. The neighbors recognized the need for transitional housing, and they were willing to accept some changes. But the feeling was that 50 beds would be too much."

Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose 5th district includes the county island south of W. College Avenue, said he favors adding beds to help homeless women, but said he would make his decision after hearing both sides.

"I am leaning towards supporting the expansion," he said. "There is no question there is a serious need for additional resources to aid our homelessness issue, especially when it comes to women and children."

The zoning board did approve the shelter's request to stay open for 24 hours. In the past, women had to leave each morning and wait outside for the shelter to open in the evening.

Neighbors say the move to 24 hours has helped keep noise and traffic down, but an additional 20 residents would put too much stress on the neighborhood.

"It's a concentration thing," said Todd Smith, who lives on Wild Rose Drive. "Having 50 people on that size of a lot would be too much. To have such a concentration, that's my biggest fear."

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