The proposed purchase of a Guerneville-area home to provide permanent housing for five to 10 currently homeless people has created a new flashpoint in a community deeply divided on how to address the region’s growing problems with homelessness, vagrancy, illegal camping and the health issues that come with it.
At issue is a plan for the Sonoma County Community Development Commission to provide a deferred-payment loan of $950,000 to West County Community Services, a local nonprofit, to buy and fund needed upgrades to a five-bedroom house on Old Cazadero Road in Guernewood Park.
The loan would come from $1.2 million in county funding set aside in 2013 for a planned homeless service center and overnight shelter that has since been abandoned, largely because of public opposition.
The new plan complies with the county’s embrace of the “housing first” philosophy, a nationally adopted best practice.
The philosophy reflects studies showing that people given a stable place to live can more readily address the problems that led to their homelessness and thus are more successful than those who are required to “earn” housing through demonstrations of good behavior.
A caseworker would be available on site for 20 hours a week to help residents begin to bring order to their lives. Residents would be expected to pay rent and eventually might find more independent housing, creating room for someone else to move in.
But deep mistrust — even suspicion — of the process and the players involved, fears of how neighbors could be affected and objections to the cost are just a few of the complaints driving opposition since the proposal was announced 1 1/2 weeks ago in what has been a hurried deal.
“Instead of building consensus, they just try to shove it down your throat,” said Guerneville resident Marcy Cooper, an organizer with Friends & Residents of Guerneville, or FROG.
Advocates on both sides are expected to turn out in force at the Sonoma County supervisors meeting Tuesday, at which the board will debate the loan, which carries a 30-year term and 3 percent interest deferred until revenues from rent are available.
A four-fifths vote is necessary for its approval.
Fundamentally the plan, if approved, is for West County Community Services to lease rooms to vulnerable individuals who have been homeless for at least a year and to provide them with caseworker management for issues related to substance abuse, unemployment, mental or physical health issues and other impediments to a stable life, the agency’s executive director, Tim Miller, said.
The residents would be free to come and go as they please, like anyone else, but would have to comply with basic house rules like common quiet times, getting approval for guests and attendance at house meetings, Miller said.
Drinking in common areas, disruptive behavior and illegal drug use would be prohibited, he said.
But residents would not specifically be screened for other behavioral, alcohol or drug issues, Miller said. The housing first model was developed in part in response to the failure of widespread practices that left many people out in the elements by requiring them to overcome coping mechanisms and demonstrate good behavior before they could earn their way into shelter.