For nine years Judy Vargas slept outside — along the Petaluma River, outside the Central Santa Rosa Library, on park benches in areas that stayed lit at night. Sometimes, there was space for her at Sam Jones Hall, Santa Rosa’s largest overnight shelter for homeless people.
But it wasn’t until Vargas found the Living Room, a Santa Rosa daytime drop-in center for homeless and at-risk women and children, that she started to seek a way out of homelessness.
“This place saved my life. It’s helping me get back on my feet,” said Vargas, 63. “When I was out there, I felt scared and alone and helpless.”
Vargas, who currently lives at The Palms Inn in Santa Rosa, a former motel converted into housing for homeless people, has also inched to the top of the list to receive a low-income housing voucher. She says services offered at the Living Room have helped her maintain her sobriety and one day may help her into her own apartment.
The Santa Rosa nonprofit, which serves 70 to 100 women and children daily, kicked off its grand opening and largest fundraiser Sunday at its new half-acre complex on Cleveland Avenue. For the past 23 years, it operated out of the Church of Incarnation on Cherry Street in Santa Rosa.
The new center, with 4,900 square feet of indoor space in five buildings, offers mental health services, parenting skills, two meals a day, new-parent needs like diapers and has a play area for kids. It is also a much-needed respite from the streets during daytime hours, nonprofit officials said.
“Being homeless is hard enough, but many of the women also have disabilities and problems with trauma in their background,” said Cheryl Parkinson, executive director of The Living Room, adding that the services offered on-site help provide stability so women can address underlying problems and health complications.
More than 60 percent of women served have experienced post-traumatic stress, Parkinson said. More than 90 percent were exposed to domestic violence as children or adults and 60 percent have at least one diagnosed disability, she said.
The new Cleveland Avenue center cost $1.5 million to purchase and renovate and has a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, as well as showers and laundry facilities.
Organizers said they were on track to raise $100,000 for the nonprofit center during Sunday’s fundraiser.