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We are homeless individuals living in the encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail. We were saddened to hear about the attack on Bill Petty. We don’t condone violence, and neither do the other homeless people living along the trail with us. We were happy to hear that the alleged perpetrator was caught and will be brought to justice.

We don’t want our community to blame all homeless residents for what one bad guy did. Just as not all cyclists should be blamed for those who don’t follow the rules, we don’t think all campers should be blamed for those few bad apples.

We understand that some people are frustrated with the Joe Rodota Trail encampment. Most of us used to live at the Roseland Village camps, but the county evicted us last month. We tried to establish encampments at locations far away from the trail and out of the view of our community, but every time we tried to set up a new camp, the county and city kicked us out. We don’t want to be a nuisance to anyone. We just want somewhere we can live with safety and dignity.

There are more than 2,000 unsheltered persons in the city and county, and there are fewer than 600 shelter beds. Catholic Charities and all the faith-based shelters don’t have enough beds to shelter all the unsheltered people in the county. Also, there are many of us who can’t be in a communal setting like Sam Jones Hall because of disabilities. Many of us have PTSD from past experiences like domestic violence or military combat service, and being in that kind of environment causes flashbacks, panic attacks and other symptoms.

Those of us who receive minimum wage or public benefits can’t afford the high rents in the county. The city and county don’t have affordable housing, which would be in the range of $300-$500 a month. We ask that the city and/or county let us have a sanctioned encampment, just a small piece of dirt while we find permanent housing.

We ask that the county and city not punish us by arresting us for illegal camping and trespassing. Arresting us for just trying to sleep costs the city and county more money for jail and court costs, and it makes it harder for us to find housing.

We also ask the city and county not to punish us by taking away our bathrooms. We all have to go to the bathroom. We are forced to bother local businesses to use their restrooms, and we get dirty looks even if we purchase items at the store.

We don’t think taking away our washing stations is good for anybody. Washing our hands promotes good hygiene and helps prevent the spread of diseases. The recent hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego is one example of why denying homeless individuals access to toilets and other facilities is a public health issue, not just for those individuals but for the larger community. We want to prevent things like this, but the county and city are refusing to work with us and the homeless advocates who are willing to help us pay for porta-potties and hand-washing stations.

The last time authorizing an encampment came up, the City Council was split on the issue. The Board of Supervisors promised on Dec. 5 that, prior to evicting us from Roseland Village, a new encampment would be opened, with Supervisor David Rabbitt even mentioning Tuff Sheds. They have since broken their promise.

We don’t want to be out on the streets. Most of us would welcome a home like the Palms Inn, but there are no vacancies there, and there are no other places like the Palms. Since there aren’t enough affordable housing and shelter options, allowing a sanctioned encampment is an obvious and cost-effective choice. Other communities have set up sanctioned encampments, or Tuff Shed villages, and we can learn from their experiences. Having a stable place to sleep will help stabilize us and get us into permanent housing.

Nicholle Vannucci and Maureen Garcia live in the homeless camp along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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