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A big day for downtown Santa Rosa: Ground is broken, virtually, on Caritas Village

A model for the nation.

A game-changer.

A cause for hope.

A vitally important, innovative effort to address homelessness and a dearth of affordable housing in Sonoma County.

Accolades and resolve flowed Friday at a milestone event in central Santa Rosa — a virtual groundbreaking for the huge Caritas Village project. As envisioned, the undertaking will provide shelter and life-altering solutions to many without secure housing through the building of 128 affordable-rent apartments and a multiservice shelter that could accommodate as many as 210 people.

Despite the timing of Friday’s digital groundbreaking, construction already is well underway at the site between A and Morgan streets. It’s immediately east of Highway 101, west of the Santa Rosa Plaza’s northernmost parking garage and close by the Museum of Sonoma County and St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.

Catholic Charities of the Santa Rosa Diocese now operates on the property a 138-bed shelter called the Family Support Center and a drop-in and resource facility.

Following five years of planning, Catholic Charities and primary partner Burbank Housing have embarked on the creation of what several videotaped speakers described Friday as a bold new model for resolving chronic homelessness and housing insecurity in Sonoma County.

“It’s a crucial project for our community,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. “On any given night in Sonoma County, over 3,000 people find themselves without a roof over their head.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, told those who attended the groundbreaking online, “Let’s be honest: We all need some hope in our lives right about now.”

During the pandemic, the violent insurrection in Washington, D.C., and all else that roils the nation, McGuire said, “It’s hard right now, it’s hard to hold out hope.”

He said he believes Caritas Village brings true hope to the quest to at last find solutions to homelessness and a critical shortage of affordable rentals.

“This project could easily have failed,” McGuire said, “but that was never an option. The stakes are simply too high and the consequences of the status quo, they are no longer acceptable.”

Naomi Fuchs, CEO at Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, said, “There’s a profound relationship between housing and health. It is almost impossible for people to deal with serious health issues when they are unhoused.”

Fuchs set forth how her nonprofit will help to assure that the people sheltered at Caritas Village will receive the full range of health and other services they will need to stabilize their lives and move forward.

Groundbreaking speaker Mike Nonella is construction manager for Santa Rosa’s Wright Contracting Inc., which has begun work on the first phase of the project, Caritas Center. The three-story, steel-and-concrete structure will be home to the shelter, health clinic, child care center and other components of the village.

“It’s very similar in size and scope to the recently completed gym and theater (built by Wright) at Rancho Cotate High School,” Nonella said.

A donor to the project, Merry Edwards, the renowned Russian River winemaker, said she is convinced it will be “a model for the nation. Not just for California, but for the nation.”

The groundbreaking celebration invited contributions to the capital campaign that entrepreneurs and philanthropists Vic Trione and Greg Steele are leading for the first phase, the Caritas Center. That building is projected to cost about $45 million, and Catholic Charities figures it needs another $3 or $4 million in community donations.

There is more information at the project’s website, www.caritas-village.org.

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