Wearing a bright yellow raincoat and looking a little like a Bodega Bay fisherman, John Ruano used a shovel to clear gravel from several narrow trenches that were keeping Camp Michela from flooding.
As residents of the southwest Santa Rosa homeless camp hunkered down for a cold and wet day, Santa’s stand-ins dropped by Monday morning four days before Christmas bearing some much-needed gifts.
Jenny and Len Hirschi of Sebastopol, their 9-year-old granddaughter, Janice Williams, in tow, dropped off blankets and socks for camp residents. Jenny Hirschi said she was inspired to do something for the Camp Michela residents after reading newspaper stories about their plight.
“Part of the reason is I come from a migrant farmworker family and we moved around a lot from job to job,” Hirschi said. “My mother always helped other people who were even less fortunate than we were.”
Hirschi said she put out an email request to friends for blankets and socks and quickly collected 58 blankets, 58 packages of men’s socks and 33 packages of women’s socks. Unable to distribute all the donations — there are only 19 residents at Camp Michela — Hirschi asked camp residents where she could find another homeless camp to donate the rest of the cargo in her van.
Ruano, a camp manager, said visitors have been coming by the camp daily to drop off gifts and food. The camp, located in a gravel lot behind the Dollar Tree on Sebastopol Road, was set up about a month ago after it vacated its original location on a county-owned lot in west Santa Rosa. The original camp, established in early September, was part of a protest against what activists said was local government’s inaction on homeless issues.
The camp’s latest site falls within the long-awaited Roseland Village neighborhood development and is only temporary, according to homeless advocates and county officials.
“They’ve committed to move off the property no later than early February,” said Jim Leddy, a special projects director with the county Community Development Commission, which manages the property for the county.
Leddy called the camp “unsanctioned” and said campers would likely have to leave before spring.
“We were saying the sooner the better, and we’re trying to facilitate a better situation,” he said.
Carolyn Epple, a co-organizer of the camp, said the residents of Camp Michela were essentially “on standby” as they negotiate with a religious group for another location. She would not specify which religious group because she did not want to hinder the talks.
In the meantime, she said, local residents and volunteers from the community continue to visit the camp and make donations.
“One group is dropping off ponchos this afternoon,” she said. “Another, a friend of the camp who has done a lot for us, made homemade cookies.”
Epple said the camp does not need any more donated clothes. She said campers could use tent heaters and small camping propane bottles.
The encampment was named in honor of Michela Wooldridge, a homeless single mother who was murdered just days before she was to receive a space at the Sam Jones Hall shelter in 2012. Epple, citing statistics from the California Department of Public Health, said an average of about 30 homeless people die in Sonoma County each year.
Largest North Coast Wildfires
2017-Tubbs fire- approximately 36,432 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 92% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Nuns Fire- approximately 54 thousand acres- 34,398 in Sonoma County and 20,025 in Napa county. 80% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Atlas Fire- approximately 51,624 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties. 85% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Redwood Fire- approximately 36,523 acres in Mendocino County. 85% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Pocket Fire-approximately 14,225 acres in Sonoma County. 63% contained as of Oct. 19.
2017-Sulphur Fire-approximately 2,207 acres in Lake County. 96% contained as of Oct. 19.
(TOTAL North Bay fires as of Oct. 18.- 195,434 acres)
2015- Valley Fire burnt 76,067 acres in Lake County. A total of 1,955 structures were destroyed.
2012- North Pass Fire- approximately 41,983 acres in Mendocino County.
2004- Rumsey fire- 39,138 acres in Napa and Yolo counties.
1996- Fork fire, the largest fire on record, burned through approximately 83,057 acres in Lake County. Much of the devastation was focused in the Mendocino National Forest.
1981- Atlas Peak Fire- approximately 23 thousand acres in Napa County.
1981- Cow Mountain Fire- approximately 25,534 acres in Lake and Mendocino counties.
1964- Hanly Fire- approximately 52,700 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties. 84 homes, 24 summer cabins and countless farm buildings destroyed including the historic Tubbs Mansion.
1964- Nunns Canyon- approximately 7,000 acres in Sonoma County.
-Source: CAL Fire