Homeless camp forced out near Joe Rodota Trail

People in a homeless camp near the Joe Rodota Trail were evicted Thursday after complaints of trespassing from property owners. Nine people have been arrested for trespassing since Wednesday.|

Police cleared out a new homeless encampment near the Joe Rodota Trail on Thursday, the latest in a series of sweeps that have kept the homeless community on the move.

Approximately two dozen campers were told to leave the area Thursday or face arrest for trespassing, authorities said.

Michael Titone, an advocate with the Homeless Action group, said police escorted him and other advocates off the property before a planned sweep Thursday afternoon. He said the people he serves are now almost constantly moving in search of new places to camp.

“They’ve been forced out of every place that they’ve tried to camp and this is nothing new,” Titone said.

Those who refused to move were arrested on trespassing charges, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Jonathan Wolf said. Nine people have been arrested since Wednesday, he said.

Police have conducted several sweeps to clear homeless camps that have popped up along the Joe Rodota Trail following the April 19 closure of the Roseland Village encampment behind the Dollar Tree store on Sebastopol Road.

The latest encampment is?situated on a parcel of land on Roberts Avenue owned by the Gateway Properties Coalition, a group of nine property owners with 15 parcels of land a mile southwest of downtown Santa Rosa.

Cliff Whigham, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Commercial who manages the property, filed a police report on Tuesday requesting the removal of trespassers. After the sweep, he will have to repair fencing around the property and remove the trash and debris left behind, he said. A portable toilet brought onto the property by an advocacy group was removed Thursday morning.

“They moved the fencing and made their own enclosure and encampment. No permissions from anybody,” Whigham said.

The property owner, Shamrock Materials CEO Eugene B. Ceccotti, authorized the eviction, though he is presently in Southern California, Whigham said.

The property is zoned for medium-high density housing, and Whigham’s vision for the land includes a mix of affordable and market-rate units.

Irma Ponc has been cooking food for the homeless in Santa Rosa for six months, mainly as a way to keep in touch with her daughter, who she said lives in an encampment and is “mentally delayed.” On Wednesday, police cited her for trespassing as she cooked for camp residents, Ponc said.

“They need to eat,” Ponc said. “Nobody is listening. Nobody is paying attention.”

Rena Patterson was born and raised in Santa Rosa, and is now homeless. She said the sweep is a “normal routine” now.

“First they give us a warning, then they give us tickets, then they send us to jail,” she said.

Patterson said she’ll look for a new place near downtown, because she needs a job and the security of living alongside other homeless women. The camp on Roberts Avenue was comprised mostly of women, she said.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re outside as a woman,” she said. “We try to stay as a little small group. That’s why we’re here.”

Wolf said campers were offered services by the Catholic Charities outreach group and Redwood Gospel, but all rejected offers to place them in beds in a shelter. Wolf said there is no sanctioned camping within city limits, and taking a shelter bed is the only lawful option for those on the streets.

The Sonoma County Parks Department offered access to a nearby storage facility between 1 and ?3 p.m., where homeless individuals could store their belongings for 60 to 90 days.

You can reach Staff Writer Meghan Herbst at 707-521-5250.

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