Sonoma County’s $2 million idea to turn a motel on a run-down strip of Santa Rosa Avenue into permanent housing for homeless people is now a reality.
The new tenants — 60 homeless veterans and 44 chronically homeless people — are beginning to move into their new digs at The Palms starting this week, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, which is spearheading the south Santa Rosa project.
“I’m so excited, we are getting 104 extremely vulnerable people off the streets and into housing,” Holmes said. “That doesn’t happen every day.”
The project, first envisioned in 2014, was launched about four months ago by a team of homeless advocates and county officials. It is being touted locally as a first-of-its-kind approach to addressing homelessness in a county where rents have risen 40 percent in four years and rental vacancy rates are at an all-time low.
“It’s only a drop in the bucket compared to what we need, but I really believe this model could transform how we house homeless people in our community,” Holmes said.
Roughly 30 new tenants are expected to move in this week, with others staggered throughout the month to allow time for staff training and program adjustments. Each resident — selected based on criteria that takes into account length of homelessness, chronic illnesses and disabilities and military service — will receive long-term housing in one of the former motel rooms.
The type of housing is known as single-room-occupancy lodging, which involves the conversion of motels or hotels into apartments to provide lower-cost housing for low-income, homeless and elderly people.
Similar projects undertaken in San Francisco have for decades housed working-class and poor people.
At The Palms, each tenant is required to pay 30 percent of whatever income they have each month for rent. The majority of the program is funded with federal and state housing money and assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Board of Supervisors last year also contributed $250,000 in general funds to assist Catholic Charities with the hiring of case managers and other support staff, Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.
“It usually takes years to get anything like this done, so to get people into housing in less than four months is nothing short of a miracle,” said Zane, who has steered the opening of The Palms. “People already want to replicate it, and we should. It’s the fastest way to get people into housing.”
The annual operating cost of the project is estimated at $1.9 million.
Catholic Charities recently hired four employees to staff the project, overseeing maintenance and running programs including alcohol- and drug-treatment classes, job placement, financial-management assistance and health offerings such as yoga classes.
An on-site manager will be available 24 hours a day and each tenant will be linked with a case manager, Holmes said.
“Providing those supportive services is key to making this work,” she said.
Holmes said the program could eventually include an on-site health clinic.
Akash Kalia, who owns the motel, is donating beds, other furniture and televisions to each of the tenants. Holmes and others are asking for more donations to assist the tenants who are transitioning off the streets and into housing.