Santa Rosa business park becomes refuge for homeless people camping in RVs, trailers
Northpoint Corporate Center, a 250-acre business park in southwest Santa Rosa, is home to 20 of the city’s largest businesses, including Amy’s Kitchen, JDS Uniphase and a new Kaiser Permanente medical office building.
But the business park has started attracting a new type of tenant.
Homeless people are parking RVs, trailers and cars along the streets of the business park, seeking a quiet, safe place to sleep in their vehicles at night. Many were pushed out of other longstanding encampments in Roseland and along the Joe Rodota Trail earlier this year after the City of Santa Rosa implemented a new homeless policy that prioritized clearing out camps.
Their presence in the business park just south of Sebastopol Road has revived the debate over how to serve the region’s homeless people, who need a place to stay and access to services, while balancing the rights and concerns of property owners.
Starting last fall, after the October wildfires, a handful of people with no other place to go began parking their vehicles in the business park, according to Keith Woods, president of the Northpoint Corporate Center Owner’s Association. Within the past month, the RVs and trailers have been showing up in larger numbers, and now more than 30 vehicles are parked within the center’s boundaries.
Many of the people living in their vehicles were pushed out of downtown Santa Rosa in late May after an encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail was cleaned out in late May.
Ikedia Jones lives in an RV parked on Apollo Way, where friends drop by to visit her throughout the day. Sometimes she cooks for them in her RV, which was given to her by a friend after she was evicted from a camp near the Joe Rodota Trail last month.
Jones said she has been moved five times since she became homeless six months ago - adrift in a city with no sanctioned outdoor camping.
“Until the city decides that they’re going to give us a place where we can be, we’re going to be wherever we can,” Jones said.
Property owners met June 27, and the No. 1 topic of conversation was “the issue across the street,” according to Woods.
It was a minor problem at first, but over the past couple of months the number of vehicles parked along the business center’s streets has risen sharply, said Woods, who is also the CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, a construction trade association based at Northpoint. Tempers have flared, both among people who work in the business park and homeless people who are sleeping in their cars, he said.
“We all expressed our sympathy for their circumstances and life, but now it’s affecting our area,” Woods said. “We’re going to need help from our city.”
Property owners took issue with excessive garbage and littering, unsanctioned barbecues and public urination. Several said their employees frequently felt unsafe when leaving the office after dark or while walking around on the center’s sidewalks. In one instance, campers used trees for hatchet-throwing practice, according to Woods.
Santa Rosa police Lt. Mike Lazzarini said that officers have been called to the corporate center every day to deal with complaints from property owners and management.
“It’s a continuation of what’s been at the Joe Rodota Trail and we have such a history of it here in this town,” Lazzarini said.
Owners want to hire additional security - currently each property owner employs security services at their own discretion - but Woods said they’re limited with what they can do legally. Vehicles can be parked for up to 72 hours in a single spot along public streets, but drivers don’t need to move far to reset the clock after their time has run out.
Catholic Charities has been called into the business park to act as mediator between frustrated business owners and homeless people in need of services. The nonprofit operates Samuel L. Jones Hall, a shelter with 188 beds, and runs several transitional and permanent housing programs for the city, including outreach services provided by street teams.
Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, attended the June 27 meeting at Northpoint Corporate Center. Holmes said that outreach teams are providing shelter options, food, clothing and counseling to individuals parked in the area, and are currently trying to determine what type of care they require.
“We’ve worked with (Woods) and his organization and several businesses out there as well as the Santa Rosa Police Department and other stakeholders to do engagement and outreach with several individuals,” Holmes said.
Still, many homeless people turn down offers for a shelter bed. Jones said that she once stayed at Sam Jones Hall for a week and felt safer in the encampment she lived in.
According to a report prepared by Homeless Action and presented to the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, many encampment residents have PTSD and severe anxiety disorders that are exacerbated by living in what they said are overcrowded shelters.
After the city of Santa Rosa implemented its Homeless Encampment Assistance Pilot Program in August 2017 and several large camps were cleared out, many of Santa Rosa’s homeless occupants have been unable to settle for long in any one place. This April and May additional camps along the Joe Rodota Trail and Sebastopol Road were cleared.
Jones said she feels weary from telling her story over and over again, while nothing changes.
“We’re not asking for too much,” Jones said. “All we’re asking for is a place to be and for them to leave us alone.”
You can reach Staff Writer Meghan Herbst at 707-521-5250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter?@Megeherbst.