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Sonoma County will house vulnerable homeless at Windsor Holiday Inn

Sonoma County is setting up a temporary shelter at the Holiday Inn in Windsor to house older homeless people who are vulnerable to getting infected by the coronavirus.

The hotel will have room for up to 90 individuals over age 65 who have not been diagnosed with the highly contagious virus, but are considered at high risk of serious health complications if they contract it.

The Holiday Inn Windsor Wine Country, located at 8755 Old Redwood Highway, is expected to be ready to accept homeless residents before the end of the month.

The county’s contract will provide essential services for them at the hotel only through the end of the year, said Ken MacNab, Windsor town manager.

The county is spending $3.2 million for homeless services, or $139 a day for each room occupied, at the Windsor hotel, said Matt Brown, a county spokesman.

The Holiday Inn is one of five area lodging properties that the county is spending millions to either lease or acquire to house homeless residents.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said Wednesday that the county needed the Windsor hotel rooms because a temporary homeless shelter provided by the Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds near Camp Meeker is coming to an end. Sixty older residents at the west county location will be transferred to the Windsor Holiday Inn, he said.

County officials acted quickly to arrange for the Windsor hotel site, a move that surprised Windsor officials. The Desai family, which owns the Holiday Inn as well as the Holiday Inn Express in Windsor, had reached out to county officials previously, Gore said, but negotiations for the contract on the Holiday Inn rooms took place in the past month. None of the family could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Gore acknowledged some Windsor residents are opposed to using the local hotel to house homeless people, especially since the decision was made without a public forum. But he viewed it as the least bad option given the extent of the county’s homeless crisis and that other county municipalities already have stepped up to offer shelter locations.

“We are going to be looking at applications that are countywide,” Gore said of temporary homeless shelter sites. “I can tell that makes everybody uncomfortable. But what makes us more uncomfortable is doing nothing.”

County officials are contracting with DEMA Consulting & Management of Petaluma to temporarily provide meals and medical services for homeless at the Windsor hotel site. The consulting firm has worked with the county to deliver similar services to shelter individuals at the Best Western Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg and the Astro Motel in Santa Rosa. The county started using rooms at the Healdsburg property last summer and has budgeted $11.5 million for homeless services there through June.

In addition, last year the county budgeted $27 million to buy, renovate and operate the Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa and the Sebastopol Inn as homeless housing for two years. The state’s Project Homekey grant program is expected to cover $16 million of that total expense.

Meanwhile, the biggest immediate effect on Windsor will be a dent in the town’s budget. Before the pandemic, the Holiday Inn brought in about $25,000 in monthly room taxes, MacNab said.

Windsor Councilmember Deb Fudge said the town already was looking at cutting its budget by $1.2 million for the next fiscal year “and this will make it more.”

Fudge said the town was caught by surprise by the county’s agreement to offer homeless services at the Holiday Inn, but she was relieved to learn there have not been problems at other homeless shelter sites that DEMA manages for the county.

Still, she wants to see the Windsor property go back to being a hotel by next year and not be converted into permanent homeless housing.

“We don’t want the Holiday Inn to be a homeless shelter,” Fudge said. “It was built as a hotel for guests.”

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