Santa Rosa’s plans to clear out a homeless camp at the Sixth Street highway underpass were subjected to another round of public scrutiny this week, as a packed Thursday night meeting reflected the high level of debate surrounding the unsanctioned and squalid encampment.
City officials and homeless outreach workers met with neighbors at the De Turk Round Barn to explain the city’s new approach calling for the camp’s breakup. In all, about 100 people, including residents of the West End neighborhood, homeless advocates and city staff, attended the meeting.
Over the next month, outreach workers will continue talking with people living under Highway 101 to warn them the camp will eventually be disbanded and encourage them to take up the offer of services, such as one of the new shelter beds slated for mid-October in the city’s shelter system. Councilman Chris Rogers acknowledged the strategy demands the neighborhood be patient.
“What we’re trying to do in general is strike a delicate balance when one person’s right to be in a location infringes on another person’s right to be in that location,” Rogers said.
“We want to help end homelessness while also acknowledging the neighborhood is impacted by the encampment that’s there.”
The measured approach — part of the city’s new strategy for addressing one of the city’s 40 or so known homeless camps — is aimed at addressing homelessness with a long-range view of getting people off the streets, and not simply shuffling them from one place to another, Rogers said.
It’s estimated between 40 to 50 people have been living in the dense community of tattered tents, blankets and belongings covering both south and north sidewalks of Sixth Street under Highway 101.
City officials explained the gradual dismantling process used earlier this year at the longstanding vermin-infested encampment off Farmers Lane on the western edge of Bennett Valley, dubbed “Homeless Hill.” Since it was cleared out in August, city officials estimate 70 percent of the 50 or so residents have received housing, and none have returned.
After the city presentation, attendees at the meeting were organized in small groups around tables to foster conversation and give feedback to the city.
On Friday, West End resident Allen Thomas said while he understands the city’s strategy, it seemed the city was unwilling to address a clearly troublesome and potentially dangerous situation for the neighborhood and opted to instead prioritize an impossible goal: Ending homelessness.
“What I feel the most about what happened (Thursday) night, is kind of utter disappointment in the city of Santa Rosa’s ability to deal with this situation in a timely fashion,” Allen said.
Outreach workers and police officers have been talking with homeless people at the Sixth Street underpass for months, and they have helped 19 people get into housing over the last three months, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing at Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa.
A more aggressive effort to help people find housing will begin over the next several weeks, timed with the addition of 50 beds at the city’s main shelter, Sam Jones Hall, expected to be available starting Oct. 9, Holmes said.
In addition, Catholic Charities’ service center on Morgan Street will in mid-October add afternoon hours so that more people can come to shower and relax. Currently, they are open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Santa Rosa Police Capt. Ray Navarro said officers will continue working with city cleanup crews that have been visiting the location and others each week to address garbage and sanitation issues.
“It doesn’t help just to tell people to leave or to arrest people, you need the services,” Navarro said.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.