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Authorities clear 20-person homeless camp in Santa Rosa as cold weather sets in

“This one has been on our list for months,” Kelli Kuykendall, the city’s homeless services manager said this week. “There are a lot of other encampments out there.”|

As a winter cold front approached Santa Rosa last week, authorities cleared a 20-person homeless camp at Bicentennial Park in the northwest part of the city.

The camp, disbanded on Dec. 16, was one of many Santa Rosa officials have been monitoring.

“This one has been on our list for months,” Kelli Kuykendall, the city’s homeless services manager said Tuesday. “There are a lot of other encampments out there.”

Even so, Bicentennial Park is the only camp that’s been cleared in recent months because of a lack of available shelter beds, Kuykendall said.

A federal injunction on the city and a 2018 court decision covering most western states effectively prevent Santa Rosa from clearing encampments on public property without first offering shelter.

The city’s homeless outreach team, run by the nonprofit Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, offered all of those staying in Bicentennial Park a shelter bed. Out of about 20 people, 12 accepted services and six agreed to move into temporary shelter, according to Jennielynn Holmes, head of homelessness operations at Catholic Charities.

“Our outreach team had been at this encampment on a weekly basis since September,” Holmes said.

There were no arrests or citations when authorities cleared the camp, according to Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chris Mahurin.

This summer, officials reduced capacity at the city’s Sam Jones Hall shelter from 213 to 126 following a massive coronavirus outbreak there in July that infected three-quarters of residents, two of whom died of COVID-19 complications.

The city is now working to make more beds available, even as the extremely contagious omicron variant rapidly spreading in many parts of the country was recently detected in Sonoma County.

“With the wet weather and cold weather there’s been a real need for more beds,” said Kuykendall. “We’ve been slowly bringing more back online and of course consulting with public health on everything.”

Adrienne Lauby, president of Sonoma Applied Village Services, a nonprofit supporting the unhoused, said homeless people can be reluctant to stay in group shelters for a variety of reasons, including the close quarters with others or because of dietary needs a shelter can’t accommodate.

Still, she hopes officials will open more temporary winter shelters at sites including the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

“Even with COVID, it seems really dangerous not to have a place where people can go when it’s cold and wet,“ Lauby said.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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