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Santa Rosa police clear Yolanda Avenue homeless camp

Santa Rosa police Thursday morning cleared a homeless encampment on Yolanda Avenue, the latest in a series of city sweeps over the last three months.

Officers began clearing the roughly 35-person camp on the southern edge of the city at around 7:30 a.m., Santa Rosa police Sgt. Jonathan Wolf said. The police made no arrests but towed two cars and a trailer.

The city sweeps have continued as advocates for the homeless and homeless residents have clamored for city and county officials to provide them a safe and sanctioned place to live.

Encampments are a common sight in Santa Rosa, which has one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness among suburban communities in the nation, according to statistics kept by the federal government. Sonoma County’s latest homeless count found up to 562 chronically homeless individuals in the city.

Recently, the city cleared three homeless camps in other parts of Santa Rosa over a two-week stretch in late February and early March. One of those sites included a significant 50-person encampment on Industrial Drive.

Then April 13, police moved people out of Highway 101 underpasses — once more rousting about 50 homeless people. Two weeks ago, police cleared another 35 people from an encampment on Roberts Avenue. That one was the site of a popular member of the homeless community’s death following a March 23 vehicle assault.

Rich, 55, who declined to give his last name, said Thursday he would likely not go to Sam Jones Hall, the city’s main homeless shelter. During sweeps, police are required to offer beds to the homeless, and generally offer space at Sam Jones.

But the shelter features communal living with people sleeping in close quarters. Rich said he has post-traumatic stress disorder, making him prone to lashing out when suddenly awakened.

“I don’t want to be around where I might hurt somebody and get in trouble,” Rich said.

The camp cleared Thursday had stretched along the north side of Yolanda Avenue between Santa Rosa Avenue and Petaluma Hill Road. Complaints had come in from business owners and others who use the road frequently, Wolf said. Campers were alerted over the last week they would have to leave.

At around 8:30 a.m., camp residents rushed to gather belongings and tried to get old vehicles and trailers moved ahead of police and city sanitation workers with heavy machinery.

“It just moves people around, making them lose everything,” said TJ King, 45.

King said he’d been camped in the area for more than a year, since losing his home in a 2018 wildfire. After a long stretch of being able to escape notice and live along Yolanda Avenue, King had seen the camp swell in recent weeks.

Service workers Thursday engaged 13 campers, and five of them accepted offers to stay at Sam Jones Hall.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.

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