Final clearing of RV homeless camp in Santa Rosa approaching

Homeless advocates are rushing to get RVs registered and mobile before a final sweep at Northpoint Corporate Center.|

Stephen Toleson, 60, received a $695 check Tuesday afternoon to register his 1981 Dodge Sportsman RV with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The check, a donation from ?St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County, was a blessing he said would allow him to leave the makeshift RV camp in Santa Rosa’s Northpoint Corporate Center without fear of having his “home” ?towed away.

“I’m elated, I don’t have to drive around scared anymore,” said Toleson, a former caretaker at the Santa Rosa Air Center and KBBF radio station who has been homeless for about three years.

Toleson’s RV has been unregistered for about four years and he recently came to live at the RV encampment that’s cropped up on Apollo, Mercury and Challenger streets around the west Santa Rosa business park. Since the beginning of the year, a growing number of RVs, vans and cars have parked along the streets, forming the largest unsanctioned RV and vehicle encampment city officials have ever seen.

The encampment, which also includes several tents pitched on streets, has created numerous problems for local business and property owners, including issues stemming from the lack of essential facilities for residents, such as toilets and garbage receptacles.

Securing valid registration for vehicles may help some residents move on.

The checks are made out to the DMV, smog and repair shops. Toleson was eager to take his check to the DMV.

“I don’t feel trapped anymore,” he said. “I can drive and go somewhere else because they don’t want us here and I don’t blame them.”

Toleson is one of up to 40 people who have asked St. Vincent de Paul to help them pay for such things as vehicle registration, auto insurance, smog tests and various repairs that would allow them to relocate. St. Vincent de Paul launched its registration assistance program in August, and has been trying to help as many applicants as possible.

It’s a slow process, said Michael Nesta, St. Vincent de Paul’s disaster relief case manager. By the end of the week, the program will have spent more than $8,500 helping up to eight people get their vehicles registered, smogged and repaired, he said.

St. Vincent de Paul’s work at the encampment is occurring in tandem with city efforts to provide housing options to those living in RVs and vehicles, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, which is heading the outreach effort at the encampment. At the moment, the most likely option is a bed in a temporary shelter, she said.

Holmes said that since the outreach effort began 1½ months ago, they’ve contacted about 115 encampment residents. The majority would like to live in a legal RV park, she said, but there are a number of barriers that make that difficult, including current vehicle registration.

Many others would like to stay in permanent homeless housing facilities such as the Palms Inn in Santa Rosa, but there are currently no openings there, Holmes said.

City housing and police officials have set a goal of mid-September to clear the business park encampment, but it’s unlikely that deadline will be met.

Police have been conducting enforcement in recent weeks, arresting people on warrants and those who have been repeatedly cited for camping violations and other infractions.

Eric Christenson, owner of an office building on Apollo Street, said the encampment has gotten out of control and that “the city is moving at the speed of a snail” resolving conflicts between property and business owners and the homeless residents.

Christenson said he’s presented security video of people urinating in doorways, stealing a security camera and looking into office buildings with flashlights. He said he regularly finds hypodermic needles in the parking lot of his building.

“It feels like the city is really trying to be helpful and supportive to the homeless, but the building owners, tenants and employees are forced to deal with this terrible situation,” he said.

Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Jonathan Wolf said Tuesday there is no set date for a final enforcement that will clear the entire business park of RVs and other encampment vehicles. Wolf said that officers are nevertheless conducting regular patrols and taking enforcement action when appropriate.

“We are facing some challenges associated with the towing and storage of the RVs,” he said.

“We are working on the logistics and capacity issues so we can tow vehicles that aren’t functional or have registration that is significantly expired.”

Kelli Kuykendall, the city’s housing and community services manager, said it’s unlikely the entire business park will be clear of RVs and vehicles by the weekend. But she pointed out that a number of vehicles have left following recent police activity at the site.

“Things are looking better out there,” she said. “We have had progress, but I can honestly say that it’s not going to be completely resolved by Sept. 15.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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