Dozens sleep outdoors to raise money for Social Advocates for Youth in Sonoma County

Here’s why four dozen civic leaders gave up their comfy beds for a cold spot outdoors Friday night.|

During the part of the evening when volunteer “sleepers” were mostly still indoors, some getting food or otherwise preparing to spend a cold, wet night outside, Deputy Sonoma County Administrator Peter Rumble and Santa Rosa school board member Jenni Klose eyed the alcove at the entryway to the Social Advocates for Youth Finley Dream Center.

If they grabbed some space there, they thought, they could largely stay out of drenching rain expected to start sometime before sunrise, while their brief experiment with life on the streets was still underway.

Klose and Rumble were among 48 local professionals and civic leaders who gave up comfy beds and warm homes overnight Friday to sleep outside in cardboard boxes to raise awareness and funds for the hundreds of youths and young adults who are homeless in Sonoma County.

Participants in an event called One Cold Night, they were part of an effort that raised more than $170,000 as of Friday night, collected through more than 1,000 donations, to support the Dream Center, a shelter for former foster children and homeless young people that also provides career training, counseling and other programs designed to help them stabilize their lives.

Using donated sleeping bags that will later be distributed to needy youths and a stack of folded cardboard cartons they hoped would offer insulation, the sleepers, mostly clad in layers of high-tech outdoor wear, knew they faced discomfort as they tried to sleep on the concrete courtyard at the former Warrack Hospital.

But they conceded, as well, that their experience would provide only a glimpse of life for someone who truly has nowhere to go to get out of the elements or dry their clothes.

“We’re not trying to say that this is what it’s like to be homeless,” said Cat Cvengros, director of development for SAY and one of those who was to sleep outdoors. “They’re safe. No one’s going to assault them. The police aren’t going to come and tell them to move.”

An estimated 2,906 people in Sonoma County are homeless on a given night, nearly a quarter of them, or 663, younger than 25, according to the most recent point-in-time census conducted on a single night in January.

They include unaccompanied minors as young as 12, though most are in the 18-to-24-year-old age range, according to the census report.

Only 11 percent had some form of shelter on the date of the January count.

SAY opened its Dream Center last winter and provides short- and long-term shelter to as many as 63 former foster children and homeless youths. It’s been full almost every night since it opened, Communications Manager Caitlin Childs said.

SAY has pledged to reduce youth homelessness by 25 percent by 2018 but said its fundraising goal for One Cold Night was $100,000, because “that’s what we needed,” Cvengros said.

More than 150 people attended an hourlong event preceding the sleepout during which they heard from a formerly homeless teen who said he already had lost his permanent home when he fled an abusive, drug-addicted father for life on the streets. He said he would walk all night to keep his body temperature up when it was cold because he feared going to sleep and not waking up again.

Now he’s staying at the Dream Center, back in high school and working full time.

“This is the nicest place I’ve ever lived, and I want everyone here to know that,” he said.?Nationally, the number of people experiencing homelessness has been in decline under Obama administration initiatives launched in 2010 to reduce the number of people without housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

January point-in-time census numbers collected from about 3,000 cities and counties like Sonoma County revealed more than half a million people experiencing homelessness on a single night, HUD said Thursday, down 14 percent since 2010 overall, though the experience in different states was highly variable.

In California, the number of homeless individuals rose 1.2 percent last year, according to HUD figures. Sonoma County’s census counted 200 fewer homeless individuals in 2016 than a year earlier.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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