Sonoma County officials seeking to address the persistent challenge of homelessness in the lower Russian River communities around Guerneville will decide Tuesday whether a site on Armstrong Woods Road might work for a comprehensive homeless services center, though there is opposition.
The nonprofit West County Health Centers, which has long hoped to connect its homeless health care clinic with a county service facility, already has the 9-acre residential property at 15015 Armstrong Woods Road under contract, with an option to buy.
The asking price? Nearly $1 million.
Sonoma County supervisors haven’t weighed in yet, although 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins appears hopeful the Armstrong Woods Road property might resolve a yearslong search for a site for a center linking the homeless with counseling, employment, and financial and housing assistance, along with showers, laundry facilities and a place to eat. Officials also want the land to have room for an overnight winter shelter.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to negotiate in closed session Tuesday with representatives of the seller, West County Health Centers and the Community Development Commission to decide whether the county should get involved in the discussion and take the lead.
“I think that this property is the best opportunity that we’ve had in the seven years that this search has gone on,” Hopkins said last week. “That said, there are legitimate concerns on the part of the community that need to be addressed before moving forward.”
If elected officials agree to pursue the property, the earliest the board could act on a purchase would be April 25, Community Development Commission Executive Director Margaret Van Vliet said.
Frustrated locals are eager for a solution for the nuisance behaviors, safety concerns and other problems linked to members of the homeless community centered downtown and throughout encampments in the Russian River watershed.
At the same time, many are wary of what some see as simply transplanting those problems to the rural, residential road that leads tourists and other visitors into the majestic redwood groves of Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve north of the town center.
Locals are particularly worried about the property’s proximity to Guerneville School, a short distance to the south. The property is within a half-mile of the campus, and even closer to the crosswalk traversing Armstrong Woods Road that’s used by many of its 282 pre-K-8 students.
“We only have one ingress and egress into the school,” Superintendent Dana Pedersen said. “We only have one crosswalk, one way to come, one thoroughfare.”
The county’s Community Development Commission staff said similar conversations occur any time there’s talk of relocating public or social services, but there also are ways to mitigate concerns.
“We’d like to think there’s a way to address the concerns about safety in a humane way and get people services that they actually, genuinely need,” Van Vliet, said.
Hopkins is hosting a public meeting March 29 to take public input on the proposal. She said nothing would be decided without community engagement.
One thing is clear, however, she said, “the status quo is not working at all. The situation in the lower river is untenable.”
Annual point-in-time counts of the greater Guerneville area’s unsheltered persons indicate about 200 people in the area are generally homeless at any given time.