Dozens of homeless campers relocated to Sonoma County’s new managed tent site on Santa Rosa campus

The new 87-tent site off Ventura Avenue is the first time the county has established a camp to function as emergency housing in its bid to curb homelessness.|

Jared Hundley stood with his bicycle and two bins full of belongings in a parking lot bordered on one side by the county’s permitting and planning department and a newly established managed homeless camp on the other.

Hundley was among dozens of individuals offered shelter Thursday at the newly opened site. They had been living in an unsanctioned camp on the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa, which the county cleared Thursday.

Those headed to the county site were given two storage bins for their belongings and offered rides in vans, cars and pickup trucks.

The relocation marks the latest chapter in the long-running homelessness crisis on the 8.5-mile Joe Rodota Trail, where the county has struggled for years to address a sprawling series of camps and their attendant public health and safety issues.

The county is required to offer shelter to those it clears from such public ground, and the new 87-tent site at its campus off Ventura Avenue is the first time it has used an outdoor camp to meet that mandate.

The move came about in February, as the number of tents along the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa grew. The Board of Supervisors declared a shelter crisis linked to the trail and approved the new outdoor camp at its north Santa Rosa campus with a $3 million budget.

The site was selected over several others and over the objections of county campus neighbors, who said the county had failed to seek any initial input from their ranks.

The county has allocated $1 million for 24-hour security, and $1.5 million for its site manager, DEMA Consulting & Management Inc., a for-profit company the county has contracted with throughout the pandemic to manage homeless housing sites, said Dave Kiff, the county’s homelessness division director.

The site opened Tuesday and Kiff estimated about 50 people had checked into the camp by midday Thursday. The site is expected to accommodate 70 to 100 individuals.

“So far so good,” Kiff said.

He noted the staff were able to move an elderly couple from the trail into one of the tents Wednesday night.

“They’re safe and warm now,” Kiff said.

In addition to fencing and 24-hour security, the site includes a designated smoking area, a covered communal dining area and portable restrooms.

County staff are also expected to be on site regularly to provide support services including physical and mental health care, housing assistance and connections to job training.

The tents are equipped with cots and arranged in pods of six.

Mobile shower stations will be available a few days a week and one hot meal will be provided daily.

One resident, Joseph, who declined to give his last name, said the camp was an improvement over a safe parking site he had been staying at previously. The camp was clean, had hot meals and “the tents are comfortable,” he said.

“It’s survival,” Joseph said. “This is survival.”

To stay at the camp, residents must agree to a series of conditions including no alcohol or drugs on site, quiet hours, a curfew extending from midnight to 5 a.m. and a commitment to working with the county to find long-term housing.

During the intake process Tuesday and Wednesday, security crews checked residents’ belongings for weapons, drugs or alcohol — not permitted on site — and then residents met with staff to go over rules and receive their tent assignment.

Hundley accepted a ride from the Joe Rodota Trail to the camp Wednesday morning, but declined to stay there upon learning of the security search.

“Not going to let them demean me going through my things in public,” Hundley said.

He had been camping on the trail since the end of November when his trailer was towed while parked on South Davis Street in Santa Rosa. He said he had just moved it from Timothy Road after receiving a notice not to park there.

Having decided not to stay at the camp, Hundley asked the drivers who brought him for a ride back to the area of the trail.

He had given up his tent when moving out earlier Thursday, but wasn’t worried.

“That’s all right, I’ll get another one today,” he said.

Hundley was not the only one to object to the camp’s security measures.

“They search us like it’s jail,” said Charly Marrufo,

Though unhappy about the search Marrufo accepted a placement in the camp. She said they took her dog, Benji, a terrier, to get vaccinated.

The camp allows dogs so long as they are vaccinated, well-behaved and leashed in common areas, according to the camp’s rules.

Marrufo said she was told Benji wouldn’t be returned to her for 10 days.

Marrufo has been camping on the trail and along the train tracks for about 23 years, she said. She was skeptical of the team running the camp and said she would move into an apartment or studio if given the chance.

“If they were able to help us do it, yeah,” Marrufo said.

The camp is permitted for up to six months, but the county can apply to the city of Santa Rosa and Permit Sonoma. the county planning department, to extend operations beyond six months.

Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the camp, visited the site Thursday morning. He said he spoke to people as they entered the camp and was impressed with the setup.

He added that he thought the camp’s location in the county’s “front yard” was a good thing.

“We know that there are no other options available,” Gore said. “And we are providing people a better option than they had before.”

Two Press Democrat journalists were allowed inside the site on Wednesday afternoon but were denied access during a return visit Thursday morning that had been arranged in advance with county officials and site managers.

Sonoma County Health Services Director Tina Rivera made the decision to bar press access at the public site for the time being, according to Paul Gullixson, the county’s communications manager.

Rivera cited unspecified complaints from site managers and tenants about the media’s presence.

“We are still in the process of relocating individuals to this sanctioned emergency shelter, and we are concerned that the presence of media could be a deterrent in the successful transition of these individuals,” Rivera said in a Thursday afternoon statement.

She did not return two calls seeking clarification on the county’s stance by 6 p.m. Thursday. No legal basis for the decision was provided in her statement or by County Counsel Robert Pittman, who did not return requests for comment.

By the end of the day, only a handful of campers remained along the Joe Rodota Trail, where county parks officials have closed a 2-mile segment for cleanup.

Back at the county’s new tent site, just outside the security gate, Leo and Nycee, two people who’d just been moved off the trail, sat at a picnic table sorting through their belongings. They shared only their first names.

They were trying to determine what they could and couldn’t take with them.

“We thought we’d at least give it a try,” Nycee said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or On Twitter @MurphReports.

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