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Caritas Center homeless services project taking shape in Santa Rosa

The three-story multiservice shelter will be part of Caritas Village in Santa Rosa.|

What is set to be Sonoma County’s largest homeless services center is quickly taking shape as construction continues at the site near downtown Santa Rosa

The three-story multiservice shelter will be part of Caritas Village, a city block-sized complex between A and Morgan streets that will also include 128 apartments for low-income renters.

Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, the nonprofit developing the 46,000-square-foot homeless services section of the project, plans to operate a 40-room shelter with 192 beds for local families. The site, called Caritas Center, will also include a child care program, drop-in facility with showers and laundry, recuperation shelter and a health clinic in partnership with Santa Rosa Community Health.

“Caritas Center is a multitude of programs — it’s taking a one stop, first-of-its-kind approach,” said Jennielynn Holmes, head of homeless services at Catholic Charities, the county’s largest homeless outreach and shelter operator.

The center broke ground in January and is set to open next summer. It will replace a 138-bed family shelter Catholic Charities currently runs out of the aging former General Hospital building at the property. The center will also serve as the nonprofit’s headquarters for homeless services staff and case managers, replacing its small Morgan Street site, which the nonprofit moved out of in August to clear the way for development.

Construction on the project is now about 40% complete. Crews have finished the building’s frame, are finalizing the exterior walls and have begun assembling individual rooms.

Don Roberts, superintendent with Wright Contracting, the North Bay firm building Caritas, said what sets this project apart from other shelters or affordable housing developments is that it was designed specifically with unhoused people in mind.

“A lot of it was, the architect (Oakland-based Mike Pyatok) went and asked a lot of homeless people their needs,” Roberts said. “Catholic Charities has similar programs in operation, and their past experiences have helped in the design.”

One example is the site’s recuperation center for homeless people recently discharged from the hospital. It will consist of “pods” with 7-foot dividers and just two beds each.

“You get a lot more privacy than just an open dorm setting,” said Holmes with Catholic Charities.

To help finance construction of the roughly $43 million center, Catholic Charities, in coordination with the city of Santa Rosa, is in the process of applying for $11.4 million in state funding. The money is being made available through Project Homekey, an unprecedented $3.5 billion statewide program that so far has helped create 95 rooms for homeless people at three former hotels in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

(Click on the markers below for more information about each site. Those in green represent sites that have received Homekey funding, while those in blue have applied for project funding.)

Catholic Charities also is receiving tax credits as well as other private and public grants, Holmes said, and is close to fully funding the project. The nonprofit purchased the property from Providence St. Joseph Health in 2015.

Additionally, a charitable fund created by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has awarded Catholic Charities a $5 million grant to help pay for operating the center, the nonprofit announced this month.

In December, Santa Rosa nonprofit developer Burbank Housing is set to begin building the site’s affordable housing component. The first phase of housing should be finished around May 2023, at which point a second phase will likely begin.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers said he’s confident the project will help the county make progress in finding lasting homes for its some 2,700 unhoused residents, according to the 2020 homeless count.

“Once someone is stable with a roof over their head, we can focus on the services that will ultimately help get them off the street permanently,” Rogers said.

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

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