Santa Rosa stepping up enforcement actions against homeless camp in Northpoint Corporate Center
Time is running out for a community of about 100 homeless people who have settled in a southwest Santa Rosa business park, where they’ve drawn the ire of local workers and prompted concern among city leaders, police and housing advocates.
The city is stepping up actions to enforce local laws at Northpoint Corporate Center and is preparing a strategy to roust people living in RVs, campers and tents in the business park.
The site has become a significant public nuisance and a health and safety risk, with improper disposal of human waste, discarded hypodermic needles, vandalism, littering and other issues in play.
Recent enforcement activity at Northpoint Corporate Center suggests a large-scale operation is looming.
“You can feel it,” one camper, Bryan Moreno, 52, said Monday.
But most of those sleeping there don’t know where to go. And while the camp has thinned out a bit over the past week amid a greater police presence and some limited enforcement actions, most in the community remain and are simply holding their breath.
The 250-acre business park is the latest focal point in a charged public discussion over the vexing problems of unauthorized camping and a shortage of housing and shelter space in the region.
Homeless people began moving into the business park several months ago, parking a handful of RVs and trailers along its streets. The homeless population in the business park has swelled significantly this summer in the wake of evictions last spring at neighboring Roseland encampments and the subsequent break-up of tent villages that rose up along the Joe Rodota Trail.
By last week, about 100 vehicles in varying states of repair - some previously abandoned - and about 10 recently erected tents and tarp lean-tos lined empty parcels in the area of Challenger, Capricorn, Apollo and Mercury ways.
Many of the tent dwellers moved their shelters onto the street two weeks ago, when police told them they could be arrested for camping on private land.
Bicycle parts, mattresses, clothes, barbecues and other belongings littered some lawn areas. Local businesses also have reported some vandalism and trespassing, as well as bathing in decorative ponds.
“Lack of toilet facilities for the people in the office park is causing problems that are both visible and disgusting, so we’re rapidly losing patience,” said Keith Woods, president of the property owner association and chief executive of North Coast Builders Exchange, headquartered on Apollo Way.
One property owner last week fenced vacant land lined on three sides by vehicles used as homes, bringing the chain link down to the curb so campers needed to move their belongings or lose them to the dump. A handful of people departed the area then. Two RV users were cited for improper disposal of wastewater, police said.
Others in the encampment are doing what they can to keep their own belongings neat and out of sight. “At least it shows police that we’re moving in that direction,” said one, Peter Peirano, 31.
A multi-disciplinary team of outreach workers also has been heavily engaged with the population, making transition plans for at least 30 people, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, which leads the effort. Four have been placed into housing so far, she said.
City officials acknowledge they are preparing a strategy to roust people living in the business park with the hope that shelter or housing can be found for at least some of them first.
But the large number of recreational vehicles and trailers in varying states of repair complicates the matter. Many are expected to need towing and likely will be impounded, with the result that few will be able to redeem them.
“People can’t afford the fees,” said Adrienne Lauby, an advocate with Homeless Action, a grassroots organization.
If their vehicles are towed, she said, “we’re creating people who are homeless, and how much money is it going to cost?”
For homeless individuals who already have endured evictions from other large encampments around Santa Rosa since last summer, the prospect of further dislocation is daunting. Alarm spread Monday morning when city vehicle abatement workers on their routine rounds arrived with police to impound two unregistered, inoperable vehicles in which people had been living, and rumors spread rapidly that the closure of the camp was imminent.
Cynthia Curtis, 52, had already gone to work in Petaluma, where she serves as an in-home care provider, when a friend phoned her from the 250-acre corporate center to let her know it was time to go.
Curtis, homeless since losing her last employer as a consequence of the October fires, raced back to Santa Rosa to hitch up her trailer and pull out before it could be towed for lack of registration.
She had no idea where she would go, except she needed to return to work.
A 75-year-old woman who identified herself only as Carol decided to leave in her GMC van on Monday. She said she had no idea what her destination might be beyond this: “We’re going to make a left turn.”
Santa Rosa Housing and Community Services Director David Gouin, as well as other city officials, said they would be calling a community meeting soon to discuss plans for the site.
“In the meantime, we will be out there taking enforcement action as issues pop up or as appropriate,” police Capt. Craig Schwartz said.
Holmes worried that people would move on before they were entered into the pipeline for placement by Catholic Charities, which is working with the city and county to get people into shelter or something more permanent.
There was one breakthrough Monday.
Albert Bruin, 75, has advanced kidney disease and other health problems, but has resisted placement in the city’s Sam Jones Hall shelter, the most frequent destination for those in transition to housing. But Monday, the faded 1989 Ford van that had been his home was towed after he was awakened by a rap on the window and instructed to grab what he needed and get out of the vehicle.
Standing amid a few belongings at the curb a short time later, along with his chihuahua, Bambi, Bruin said he was “feeling very raw” about the whole affair.
With the help of advocates from Homeless Action he arranged to get to the impound yard to retrieve some important paperwork and other items from the van. By day’s end he had decided to sleep at the shelter after all - evidence, he said, of resilience that’s allowed him to survive as long as he has.
“I’m not going to sleep on the street. I’m too old, and I’m too unwell, and it would be a foolish decision, in my opinion,” Bruin said. “So as much as I would rather pull my fingernails out than be here, it’s the only choice available to me right now.”