"Don't trust anyone over 30." It was the iconic message of the 1960s. Fifty years later, that expression appears to have been turned on its head. Now it's, "Don't trust anyone under age 30 — or house them."
No other age demographic has been hit harder by the recent economic downtown, in terms of unemployment and homelessness, than those 18 to 29. The status of young adults in Sonoma County is nothing short of shameful. In 2009, a survey found 268 young adults among Sonoma County's homeless population. Two years later, that number was up to 701. By 2013, it was up to 1,128.
In many cases, these are individuals who, through no fault of their own, come from unstable family environments. Due to alcohol or drug abuse, incarceration or other issues, they've been separated from their parents. So they grew up in the care of foster parents. But foster care ends the day youths turn 18. And for 65 percent of foster youth in Sonoma County, the next step is life on the street.
Santa Rosa-based Social Advocates for Youth has been given an unprecedented opportunity to confront this problem. Sutter Health is offering to donate the former Warrack Hospital at Hoen Avenue and Summerfield Road to SAY for the purpose of opening an affordable housing complex for up to 63 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
This point bears repeating. Sutter is <i>donating </i>this prime piece of real estate with the understanding that SAY will continue to lease back the Sutter offices that remain on the site for the handsome sum of $1 a year.
Unfortunately, this "Dream Center" housing complex is at risk of being torpedoed even before drawings are completed. Neighbors in the Bennett Valley area are raising alarms. Through a group called "Community Unite," they're conducting a high-octane fear campaign to kill this proposal, raising concerns about a potential increase in drug abuse, gang activity, vandalism and other problems.
Don't buy it. There's nothing from SAY's eight years of experience with its existing housing complex, the 28-unit Tamayo Village on Yulupa Avenue, that validates the fear-mongering. Residents of the Dream Center — as with those at Tamayo — will be required to abide by strict rules. They must have jobs or be going to school. No drugs or alcohol. Outside activity stops by 9 p.m. Smoking will only be allowed in an inner courtyard.
Moreover, residents of the complex, as with Tamayo, will help screen and police themselves. Anybody who does not abide by the rules is asked to leave. As SAY Executive Director Matt Martin said, "These are people who are motivated to turn things around."
Which explains why there's a long waiting list of people wanting to get into Tamayo Village even with all its rules. Residents crave a stable living environment and seek to get away from the things that have brought instability to their lives — the very things critics contend they will bring to the area.
The Dream Center "is not a hand out," Martin said. "It's a hand up."
Neighbors make some valid points about the size of this complex being more than double the size of what Santa Rosa has experienced before. But that's justification for close monitoring, not denial.
This proposal, which calls for three phases beginning with just 40 beds the first year, is very early in the process. It has yet to be fully evaluated by the city staff let alone the city Planning Commission or the City Council. So we'll reserve our final judgment until we see a more detailed analysis. But at this point we see nothing that should stand in the way of this dream — or the future of its future residents. They've had enough unnecessary obstacles in their lives. Let's not create another one.