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Take a look inside Catholic Charities’ new downtown facility, Caritas Center

The facility, which includes a family shelter, health clinic and day center for unsheltered residents, is expected to open in September.|

Catholic Charities is gearing up to open its one-stop homeless services center in downtown Santa Rosa by the end of summer as construction at the $43 million facility nears completion.

Scaffolding that wrapped around the three-story building has come down and brightly painted murals adorn the cream-colored exterior. Inside, crews are finishing work on the shelter rooms and in an interior courtyard.

“We’re in the very exciting final days of this project,” said Jennielynn Holmes, chief program officer with Catholic Charities, the developer and operator.

The 48,000-square-foot facility known as Caritas Center will include nearly 200 shelter beds, a health clinic and a drop-in center where unsheltered residents can access shower and laundry facilities and other services. It will be the largest homeless services center in Sonoma County when completed.

The center, which Holmes estimated is about 90% done, is expected to open in September.

It’s part of the larger Caritas Village between A and Morgan streets, north of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall, that will include 128 apartments for low-income renters being developed by Burbank Housing. Burbank has broken ground on the first phase of construction, 64 units, and will begin on the second phase when the family shelter is moved to the new space, Holmes said.

The combined $123 million project, the largest of its kind in the city, was approved by the City Council in March 2020.

“It’s been a long, long journey so it’s pretty phenomenal to be in this moment,” Holmes said. “It’s very exciting and humbling to be in that building that the community helped build and there’s a lot of anticipation to see how it all rolls out.”

One-stop shop for services

Construction on Caritas Center began in January 2021. It will replace a 138-bed family shelter Catholic Charities operates out of the aging former General Hospital building at the property.

The project was largely funded by a $34 million capital campaign, tax credits and construction loans. Construction is fully funded, Holmes said.

Catholic Charities also received a $5 million grant to operate the shelter from a charitable fund created by billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Once construction on the center is complete, Catholic Charities will set up furniture, IT systems and other equipment and begin to relocate its operations, Holmes said.

About a third of the building will house the family shelter that includes 40 rooms and 192 beds.

There will be on-site child care operated through Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County.

The Nightingale Recuperative Care Center will feature 38 beds for people recently discharged from a hospital who need continued medical care. A full-scale health clinic operated by Santa Rosa Community Health will also open on site.

Housing navigators and case management services will be located at the facility in Catholic Charities’ new headquarters that will replace its small Morgan Street office.

Another feature of Caritas Center is a drop-in day center where people can shower and do laundry, receive mail and access other services. There will be storage and space for animals. Holmes called the drop-in center “the cornerstone of the program.”

Providing services in one central location will help serve more people and keep them engaged with services, Holmes said.

“This keeps them engaged with us, keeps them engaged in the center and keeps them close to the care that they need,” she said.

Designed with client needs in mind

But beyond serving a larger population, Holmes hopes that Catholic Charities will be able to provide enhanced services to clients at the new center.

Holmes said one of the biggest hurdles to providing homeless services has been a lack of an appropriate space designed with clients in mind.

Often social service agencies inherit older buildings and make the space fit “into our mission,” she said.

Catholic Charities was able to design the space to provide more privacy and one-on-on space for clients and caregivers, which staff hope can help the organization provide more dignified services to people, she said.

The recuperative care facility, for example, features small sleeping pods with walls to create more privacy for people rather than housing people in a more traditional, congregate setting that can be a deterrent to some people seeking help.

The drop-in center, a 6,000-square-foot space, will feature a quiet room where crisis managers can take someone who may be having a behavioral health crisis and can help de-escalate the situation or where they can meet privately with victims of assault.

Catholic Charities currently operates its drop-in center out of a small home that wasn’t intended to serve the 2,000 people the organization sees annually, Holmes said.

Caritas Center provides an opportunity for Catholic Charities to better engage with clients and build relationships with people who may have been hesitant to seek shelter or services before, she said.

“We’re hoping to serve them in a very dignified way that ultimately keeps them on the path toward housing,” Holmes said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

Paulina Pineda

Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park city reporter

Decisions made by local elected officials have some of the biggest day-to-day impacts on residents, from funding investments in roads and water infrastructure to setting policies to address housing needs and homelessness. As a city reporter, I want to track those decisions and how they affect the community while also highlighting areas that are being neglected or can be improved.

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