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Seeking shelter in downtown Santa Rosa

  • Raymond Sawyer, 68, right, who has been homeless in Santa Rosa for seven years, sits at his regular bench and is greeted by his friend Rickey, at the corner of Fourth Street and D Street, in downtown Santa Rosa, Calif., on November 30, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Angela Solis doesn't consider herself homeless, although she has lived the past year with her boyfriend, Jorge Robles, under a tarp along the railroad tracks near Guerneville Road in west Santa Rosa.

Everything the couple needs is inside their encampment: a barbecue for cooking; chairs to entertain company; a mattress among the bushes; and food bowls to feed their black Lab, Gordo.

The pair are among the last to cling to the strip of land along the tracks after a recent crackdown on homeless camps in the area. But Solis knows that soon, they, too, will be dislodged from the place they call home.

They may join the dozens of others who, with nowhere else to go, have ended up on the streets of downtown Santa Rosa and drawn the ire of merchants and shoppers.

For Solis, homelessness is a state of mind.

"I don't think we're homeless; we're houseless," said Solis, 44. "This is our home. This is where I eat and sleep. I'm going to miss it when we have to move."

Robles, 54, has called the tracks home for seven years. He has seen camps like his destroyed, especially in the past year as construction work to improve the tracks for commuter-rail service ramped up.

"Since they had the idea to get the train going, they have started harassing people a lot more," he said. "Pretty much all the other people have moved out except me."

Robles said police officers in the past week have asked him to leave the land. These tracks are owned by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit authority, and trespassing is illegal.

Jon Kerruish, the SMART access-control manager, said the agency has spent $100,000 to clean up the tracks and remove homeless encampments.


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