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Santa Rosa to expand homeless shelter during winter

Santa Rosa will add up to 68 emergency beds at its homeless shelter in response to the high need and frigid nighttime temperatures.

The beds will be added to the gymnasium at Samuel Jones Hall beginning Dec. 24. Catholic Charities operates 120 beds at the city-owned facility in the city's southwest area.

The move follows a City Council study session Dec. 10 where council members expressed a desire to add beds somewhere in the city, perhaps even reopening the National Guard Armory.

For a variety of reasons, the armory didn't pan out. But city staff were able to structure a deal with Catholic Charities for the expansion at Samuel Jones Hall.

"By acting immediately, we can provide this service as soon as Christmas Eve and continue through March when the frequency of colder, wet winter weather is expected to subside," Mayor Scott Bartley said. "It doesn't solve all of the problems for people living outside today, but it does take a step in the right direction."

The cost through the end of March is expected to be about $75,000, said Dave Gouin, the city's director of Economic Development and Housing. The city plans to ask the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to help share that cost, Gouin said.

There are long waiting lists at the half-dozen homeless shelters in Santa Rosa, which have a total of 417 beds. Last winter, homeless advocacy groups estimated there were about 1,700 people living on the streets in Santa Rosa.

The tight rental market and dearth of affordable housing units are compounding the problem, making it harder for people in the shelters to transition out and free up beds for others, officials said.

At the council's urging, city staff explored leasing the National Guard Armory as an emergency shelter, as it did before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suspended the practice.

The National Guard was open to the idea, but it had a few restrictions that made the arrangement less than ideal. One was that guard still uses the building for training on weekends. But the bigger obstacle was that the guard required it to be returned to its original condition by 7 a.m. each morning, Gouin said.

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