In recent weeks, Sonoma County has opened its doors to the gargantuan Graton Resort & Casino; opened its doors to the Fountaingrove Lodge, a luxury housing development for the LGBT community; opened its doors to the Barlow, a showcase for wine and food; and opened its doors to more tourists in the city of Sonoma.
At the same time, at least 1,200 Sonoma County youth are homeless and face closed doors. This youth population has no financial investors, highly paid lobbyists or consultants to advocate their needs.
Sutter Health is giving the former Warrack Hospital to Social Advocates for Youth. This can create an opportunity to provide some of the needed housing for our homeless youth. As a community, we need to embrace this opportunity and encourage the Santa Rosa Planning Commission and the Santa Rosa City Council to support the SAY effort to create the Dream Center. As Matt Martin, SAY's executive director, explained, "We are calling it the Dream Center because our youth deserve a chance to work toward their dreams."
If the city approves the project, SAY would relocate its programming and counseling services, along with administration, to the former Warrack facility. Initially, 40 living spaces would be created, and within four years the capacity of 63 would be reached. The residents would be closely screened and required to follow strict rules as a condition of their tenancies.
The hospital building has been vacant since 2008. SAY already has significant commitments of financial support to revitalize this deteriorating facility. Sutter's gift is one of unmatched generosity in our community and if accepted and employed wisely can serve as a model. We all have a vested interest in the success of this project.
SAY is well equipped to undertake this responsibility. For 22 years, the organization has operated the Coffee House, the only emergency shelter for children in the county and, for nine years, Tamayo Village, a transitional housing program for young adults. SAY has been a good neighbor and has positive relationships with adjoining neighbors.
For 42 years, SAY has been the core nongovernment agency providing a wide array of services to at-risk children. SAY provides extensive counseling, youth employment services, tattoo removal and gang violence prevention in addition to the housing programs.
As members of this community, we can be proactive in bettering the conditions for disadvantaged young people.
First, we have to overcome our own fears and ignorance. Most homeless youth are not criminals, gang members or otherwise despicable. In most circumstances, our homeless youth are the victims of their parents' misfortune, neglect, poverty or incapacity.
Second, we have to extend a hand and give a voice to this segment of our community. They are ill-prepared to advocate for themselves.
Amid the holidays and thoughts of disenfranchised young people on the street, I recall a favorite scripture: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2).
Please lend you voice to support the Dream Center.
<i>Gayle Guynup is an assigned judge, former board member and vice president of SAY. She presently serves on the honorary board of the organization.</i>