Artist hopes mural will help brighten west Santa Rosa neighborhood

Community members pitch in to ease blight on Wilson Street near mission heavily trafficked by homeless.|

There’s a new day dawning on a part of Santa Rosa that has long struggled with homelessness.

At least, that’s what the artist behind a new mural titled “Sunrise” is hoping.

Judy Kennedy is installing a brilliant 70-foot-long mural along a wall at the Redwood Gospel Mission in a bid to brighten up what had become a dirty, dark stretch of Wilson Street.

“My hope is that this will be enjoyed by both communities - the residents and the transient people,” Kennedy said Wednesday as she and a half-dozen volunteers painted geometric shapes meant to evoke a sunrise in stained glass.

The project began when Geoffrey Smith, owner of bike shop, tried to get the mission to do something about the mess left behind by homeless people who were hiding out behind a row of bushes alongside the mission’s courtyard wall. It’s also right by the front door of the bike business he moved to Wilson Street in August.

Neighbor Betsy Hall had noticed the problem herself as she walked to her yoga class, so when she heard Smith’s concerns the two paired up.

Hall talked to Chris Keys, director of men’s ministries at the mission, and got permission to remove the bushes. One day she walked into Smith’s shop with a couple saws, and in short order the shrubs were gone. Immediately, the question became what should replace them.

Once she saw the unobstructed wall, Hall said she knew a mural was needed. Kennedy, who had recently completed another mural in the area, was brought in and began brainstorming designs.

The dawn theme was natural because people in recovery often think in terms of a new day, Kennedy said. The religious nature of the mission’s work also led her to the stained-glass motif, she said.

Mission officials welcomed the idea and contributed volunteers to the effort who removed dirt and cleaned and prepped the wall. On Wednesday, Kennedy directed several volunteers who applied bright colors with names like “Sunny Side Up” and “Phoenix Rising” to her sketch.

“It’s gorgeous. It’s killer!” she called out as the colors burst to life.

One volunteer was Councilwoman Julie Combs, who called the previous condition of the property a “biohazard” and the solution “fantastic.”

“It was really needed to clean up this area, which was becoming an eyesore and a nose-sore,” she said.

She said the problem highlighted for her that the city needs to do more for the 4,000 homeless residents, including 1,500 teens, in the county.

Smith said he believes that the mission managers are doing their best in a difficult situation, which includes that many of the people who cause problems near the mission aren’t participating in the services it offers. He said it is incumbent upon business owners, residents and the mission to work together to solve the homelessness issues that are particular to the West End.

“They need our help to become good neighbors,” Smith said of the mission.

Smith, Hall and the mission put up seed money to get the project going, but they’re hoping donations will help defray some of their costs, Smith said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or ?On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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