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Homeless camp set up in parking lot of Sonoma County Water Agency

Homeless advocates set up a tent encampment Monday in the parking lot of the offices of the Sonoma County Water Agency in Santa Rosa.

The parking lot camp, called Camp Michela, at 2150 W. College Avenue includes about a dozen 2-to-4 person tents, a camper-style toilet system and water recycling.

The advocates, who are part of Homeless Action, spent the Labor Day holiday setting up the encampment to protest what they say is local government’s inaction on homeless issues.

Advocates say the county only has enough shelter spaces to house about 1,000 people, leaving between 2,000 to 3,000 people without shelter. The camp was erected at a location that had previously been slated to accommodate transitional housing for homeless veterans, said Carolyn Epple, a co-organizer of the encampment.

“This public space is going to go up for public and private interest use,” Epple said. “We don’t need more developers, we need more housing now.”

The encampment was named in honor of Michela Wooldridge, a homeless single mother who was murdered just days before she was to receive shelter space at Sam Jones Hall in 2012, said Mikeal O’Toole, co-organizer of the camp.

O’Toole and Epple said not enough is being done to address homeless issues in the county. They said advocates have repeatedly called on county supervisors and Santa Rosa council members to enact such measures as sanctioning homeless encampments, rest areas and tiny house communities.

O’Toole said the nine homeless people sleeping at the camp Monday night would otherwise be “on the street or in the woods, some place where they wouldn’t be safe.”

Steve Wittmer, 64, said Monday night that he usually sleeps on cardboard near a local Catholic Church.

“It’s just illegal to sleep,” he said. “What’s nice about this place is you can sleep here...this place is making sleep legal.”

Wittmer said he would be recruiting three more homeless people to the camp site on Tuesday.

Epple said the camp cost about $1,500 to set up.

“We’re housing nine homeless people for $1,500,” Epple said.

The camp includes a tent-like restroom that uses Poo Powder, a sanitation system used by campers who must take their waste with them. Epple said the camp could benefit from a porta-potty.

Advocates said the camp will continue until certain demands are met, including enactment of a moratorium on legal action against all homeless camps in the county and the construction of SRO-style tiny homes to house 1,000 to 3,000 people.

Epple said more homeless people will be invited to stay at Camp Michela, though she said she didn’t want the camp to grow beyond 30 people.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at (707) 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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