More than a week after residents of a relocated homeless encampment pitched their tents on a county-controlled commercial lot in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, many local residents and business owners said they were not opposed to their new neighbors, with some saying they were just becoming aware of the new camp.
Bounded by a chain-link fence covered with a green tarp, the camp was established behind the building housing the Dollar Tree store and is barely visible from Sebastopol Road, the main Roseland thoroughfare.
Fernando Reyes, manager of La Fondita restaurant on the corner of Sebastopol Road and West Avenue, said Tuesday that he had not previously heard of the camp, while voicing sympathy for the plight of its residents.
“That’s nice they have somewhere to sleep and they don’t have to be out in the cold, suffering,” said Reyes, whose parents own the popular La Fondita restaurant.
The roughly 20 camp residents include activists who originally set up tents on a county-owned lot in west Santa Rosa in early September. They did so partly to protest what they say is local government’s inaction on homeless issues.
The camp was moved last Monday from the West College Avenue property to the Roseland site — home of the long-awaited Roseland Village neighborhood development — after organizers were unable to secure agreements for two other possible locations. Those options included private property in west Santa Rosa belonging to a local religious organization and county-owned property on Mendocino Avenue near the county’s administrative complex.
On Tuesday, residents of Camp Michela — named in honor of Michela Wooldridge, a homeless single mother who was murdered in 2012 — said they had settled comfortably in their new community of 16 tents.
John Ruano, a camp leader, said they’ve had no problems with the local Roseland community. He said that sometimes local business owners or residents come by to drop off supplies. Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies also have been checking in, he said. “We’ve had no real problems.”
Reyes, the La Fondita manager, said the area in Roseland along the Joe Rodota Trail has long attracted homeless people and that sometimes they come to the restaurant to ask for money or food.
“We know a lot of homeless people. We get to know people here,” he said, adding that he sometimes offers them food when he sees they are in need.
Just down the street, Maria Alvarez, the owner of a jewelry store called Joyeria Maria, expressed a similar openness about the homeless residents of Camp Michela.
“It’s good. Everyone needs a roof over their heads, especially now that the weather is getting colder,” Alvarez said.
Bonnie Nicol, another camp leader, said four to five homeless people a day come to the camp to see if they can get in. The camp leadership has capped the number of people allowed in the community to about 20. The camp currently has a list of 58 people waiting to get in, and out of the cold, Ruano said.
Not everyone in the Roseland neighborhood has welcomed the new neighbors with open arms.
One woman who asked that she be identified only as a Sunset Avenue resident said the camp was sure to cause problems.
“I wish it was gone. It just breeds bad things, and they shouldn’t be out in the cold anyway,” the resident said.