This is not the kind of story that most want to be reading during the holidays. But it's one that can't be ignored.
Late on Christmas Eve, a man was found stabbed to death in an alley behind the downtown Santa Rosa library. On Thursday, he was identified as Nicholas Bloom, a former Montgomery High School student. He was 22. He would have turned 23 today.
Bloom was homeless. He also was known to Santa Rosa police. Court records show that Bloom had three misdemeanor convictions between September 2010 and July 2013 for various crimes — vandalism, theft and a misdemeanor hit-and-run. Most recently, he was arrested on suspicion of robbery, but the charges eventually were dropped.
As Staff Writer Jamie Hansen has reported, Zak McKenna, 22, of Santa Rosa, said he and Bloom were childhood friends. They played Little League and attended the Boys & Girls Club in Santa Rosa together.
"He didn't always do the right thing, but he was a person I could count on," said McKenna as he delivered flowers Thursday to the site of Bloom's death.
Police say they arrested another homeless man in connection with the killing. The suspect is Vladimir Sotelo-Urena, 26, who, police say, was found with blood on his clothing and hands and carrying a bloody knife. Police say he has admitted stabbing Bloom. He pleaded not guilty Friday to murder charges on Friday.
All indications are that Bloom was a young man who was struggling to find his way while living on the streets. He is not alone.
According to the most recent count, Sonoma County is home to an estimated 3,300 residents who are living outdoors. That has increased roughly 25 percent since 2009. Teens and young adults are disproportionately represented in those numbers. In 2009, a survey found 268 young adults among Sonoma County's homeless population. By 2013, that number was up to 1,128.
As we've noted before, in terms of unemployment and difficulty in finding housing, no other age demographic has been harder hit by the recent economic downtown than those between the ages of 18 to 29.
While the competition to find affordable rentals is fierce, shelters around the county are at capacity. Just before Christmas, Santa Rosa agreed to add 68 beds to its shelter at Samuel Jones Hall. But that still won't meet the need during another cold spell.
All of this underscores the importance of places like the new Dream Center proposed for the former Warrack Hospital. Sutter Health has offered to donate the site on Hoen Avenue to Santa Rosa-based Social Advocates for Youth for an affordable-housing complex for up to 63 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. As with the 28-unit Tamayo Village on Yulupa Avenue, which has operated for eight years, the complex would be a place to give young adults a chance to get on their feet and, in some cases, get off the street.
There remain many unknowns surrounding this killing. But what's not a mystery is that Sonoma County can do more to reduce its homeless population — and can do more to give young adults hope and a fighting chance.