Sonoma County making deep funding cuts to homeless services providers

Jennielynn Holmes was disappointed, concerned and relieved, all at the same time.

Holmes, the chief program officer for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, had just come out of Thursday’s meeting of the Leadership Council of the Community Development Commission - Sonoma County’s lead agency in addressing the homeless crisis.

Hers was among many nonprofits providing vital services to homeless to learn of drastic county funding cuts. For Catholic Charities, it could have been worse.

The $3.2 million price tag for the package approved in December by Sonoma County supervisors to relocate people from the Joe Rodota Trail homeless encampment, plus an expected state funding cut for fiscal year 2021, left a $2 million shortfall in funding for the county’s existing homeless services. That gap forced the leadership council on Thursday to cut money for homeless service providers by 34% across the board for the fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Another option under consideration would have pared services by 27%, with Catholic Charities taking a bigger hit. In that scenario, the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit would have seen two of its 11 programs for homeless eliminated completely, for a savings of $648,000.

Those programs were targeted because they have yet to spend the bulk of the funds allocated to them for this fiscal year. In their defense, Holmes said, both are new programs “that we’re still ramping up, where they didn’t have a full year’s worth of data to evaluate.”

In the end, facing no good options, the commission’s leadership council voted 7-2 to impose the across-the-board cuts on all services.

The lesser of two evils was still a painful outcome for Holmes, who saw her nonprofit’s county funding drop by $918,000. At least she won’t lose any of the charity’s 11 programs.

There was plenty of anguish and frustration to go around. Gerry La Lond-Berg said the overall budget of his nonprofit, SHARE Sonoma County, is $474,000.

“County funding represents 61% of that,” he said. “SHARE needs to raise $90,000 for its general operational funds this year. Due to your action, this increases to $180,000 in the next fiscal year.”

Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg’s housing administrator, pleaded with the leadership council to “take a little more time to assess these impacts.” The ex-U.S. Army captain shared that he’d been texting, during the meeting, with the executive director of the nonprofit Reach For Home, “trying to figure out what these budget impacts are going to look like for our operations in the north county.”

Scheduled to receive $175,000 from the county, Reach For Home will get $116,520 next year following Thursday’s vote.

Sotomayor said Healdsburg has lined up 10 units of permanent housing to be added to affordable housing projects. With the looming cuts, “we’re going to lose some of those units. We can’t be so shortsighted.”

Assuming a slightly defensive tone, leadership council member Gabe Kearney, also a member of the Petaluma City Council, reminded the 40 or so citizens in attendance the council’s hands were tied. “It’s not like we said, ‘Let’s cut 30% of your funding.’?”

While few attendees openly criticized the Board of Supervisors for spending $3.2 million to solve the problems created by the Joe Rodota Trail homeless emergency, people pointed out the trail’s occupants made up just a small percentage of the county’s homeless.

“We all understand the Joe Rodota Trail was a crisis,” said Jennifer Wertz, a volunteer for the Russian River Alliance. “But in our area,” said the Guerneville resident, “we have 250 (homeless) people all over our downtown, and it’s been a crisis for 10 years.”

The Joe Rodota Trail emergency is “really important,” agreed Holmes, of Catholic Charities, after the meeting. “But it’s still less than 10% of our homeless population.” The goal, she said, “is to look at how 100% of that population is treated as an emergency.”

Their budgets slashed, many of the nonprofits who serve those homeless will face their own fiscal crisis. As Holmes texted, two hours after the meeting: “Now all I have to do is find $917,000 by June 30.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or

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