Santa Rosa Vets Building, Sonoma County government campus eyed for managed homeless camps to clear Joe Rodota Trail
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is poised to consider establishing managed camps for homeless individuals at two county-owned sites as part of the county’s latest effort to address unsanctioned camps that continue cropping up along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa.
The proposal calls for up to 100 total tents spread across parking lots at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building and on the county’s own administrative campus in the northern part of the city.
The sanctioned camps are meant to curb health and safety concerns along the public trail, which has been intermittently closed over the past five years to deal with sprawling homeless camps. In each instance, the response has been much the same: provide campers with alternative housing and support services in hopes they don’t end up back on the trail.
But the latest proposal, if approved, would mark a new step for the county, which has yet to embrace managed tent sites among its suite of homeless housing options.
County leaders acknowledged the proposal is still a stopgap as the county and local cities seek to provide more interim and permanent housing to combat rising homelessness, up 5% since 2020, according to last year’s point-in-time count.
“We’ve been going through a familiar cycle on the Rodota Trail and more recently it has taken a more serious turn with larger groups of people out there,” Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Coursey said. “The ultimate goal is to get everyone housed but we can’t just leave people out on a public pathway without any services or organization. This will hopefully help break the cycle.”
The Board of Supervisors at a special 8:30 a.m. Tuesday meeting will consider declaring a shelter crisis on a portion of the county trail in Santa Rosa, a move that will allow officials to quickly establish emergency shelters on county-owned properties.
Support is needed from four of five board members, with initial startup and operations costs and trail cleanup pegged at just over $3 million.
The camps could remain open for up to a year.
The proposal comes four weeks since the trail was last closed in late January. Twenty-nine people were placed in alternative housing but the county has seen new camps established since, which prompted staff to bring forward the proposal, Coursey said.
At least 50 people are occupying a stretch of the trail, primarily west of Brittain Lane, according to the county.
Members of the cycling community who have long called on the county for more action to ensure the travel corridor remains accessible and homelessness advocates said the proposal was a step in the right direction.
The plan calls for space for up to 50 individuals or pairs on a portion of the parking lot on the west side of the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building off Maple Avenue plus space for 25 RVs or cars.
On the county campus, the Ventura Avenue lot for Permit Sonoma, the county planning agency, could be used for another 50 tents, according to a report to the board.
If approved, the camps could open simultaneously or the board could opt to open one of the locations first and expand the program as need arises, said Dave Kiff, Sonoma County’s homeless services division director.
The camps would be fenced and have security, bathrooms and showers, storage areas and provide services, such as behavioral and physical health care, housing navigation and benefit assistance.
“We want to make sure we’re not just relocating people but giving people a place they can go with wraparound services that are going to help these individuals in the long run,” County Communications Manager Paul Gullixson said.
Residents likely will be provided a tent and cot set up on platforms and the camps would be operated similarly to a managed site on Roberts Lake Road in Rohnert Park that opened in late fall and replaced a larger unmanaged camp that at the height housed about 130 people.
Residents in the camp would be barred from using substances such as drugs or alcohol and would have to work toward securing long-term housing in order to remain in the camp. The county could seek to limit visitors to the camp or implement quiet hours though details are still being finalized, Kiff said.
County health and homeless services staff have visited the trail to learn more about the population there and better understand residents’ needs, Kiff said.
Many are considered chronically homeless, meaning they have experienced homelessness for a year or more or on multiple occasions, and some have underlying health issues, he said.
Chronic homelessness in Sonoma County saw a dramatic 43% since 2020, according to results from 2022 point-in-time count.
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