Close to Home: A new approach to ending homelessness

As a community, we should be proud of the progress we have made on homelessness. But it isn’t enough.|

You've heard the bad news: The rate of homelessness in Sonoma County is an astonishing three times the national average. On any given night approximately 3,000 of our neighbors are without a home. More than 21,000 county residents are one crisis away from homelessness.

But have you heard the good news? From 2013 to 2017, Sonoma County's strong network of government, nonprofit and community partners was able to decrease homelessness by 37%. We are the only Bay Area county that was able to make a dent in our numbers.

More good news: In the past two years, more than 1,300 formerly homeless people have moved into permanent housing, thanks to Catholic Charities, our investors and our public and private partners. That's 1,300 people who now have a safe place to come home to.

As a community, we should be proud of the progress we have made. But it isn't enough.

The need in our community has never been more urgent, and our ability to continue providing life-saving services for the 2,000 people per year we assist has been severely limited by the buildings we operate out of on Morgan and A streets in Santa Rosa.

A new report issued by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute cites housing supply, affordability and an insufficient inventory of shelter and supportive re-housing programs as key factors in the high levels of homelessness in our community.

That's why we are developing a bold vision of the future: Caritas Village. Caritas Village will include a housing-focused service center, a modern and expanded family shelter and recuperative care for people leaving hospitals who have no home.

Caritas Village will allow us to significantly increase the number of people who transition from homelessness to permanent housing.

Caritas (pronounced kar' i tas) loosely translated means unconditional love, which is what we have at Catholic Charities. It's at the core of all of our work. We believe that every human being has value, and we are called to care and advocate for our most vulnerable neighbors of all beliefs and backgrounds. We've been here in Sonoma County for the past 65 years doing just that.

We know that the path to ending homelessness requires more than services. We need to build more affordable housing opportunities in Sonoma County. The Bay Area Council's report also said providing housing is the most widely accepted permanent solution for people experiencing homelessness, which is why we have partnered with Burbank Housing, a local leader in building and managing affordable housing, to build housing as an integral component of Caritas Village.

The lack of affordable housing options affects every part of the cycle for someone experiencing homelessness. If we are able to provide more affordable housing, as we will be able to with Caritas Village, the need for shelters and supportive programs will go down.

The recommendations of the Bay Area Council's report support our goals with Caritas Village - to stem the inflows into homelessness with evidence-based intervention and support programs and increase the exits out of homelessness with diversion programs and more affordable housing options.

It takes a true partnership between the public, private and philanthropic communities to make a vision like this come to life. We are proud to have received support from respected organizations such as St. Joseph Health, Kaiser Permanente and the Tipping Point Emergency Relief Fund as well as dozens of individual donors throughout our community. And now we need your support.

We have a moral imperative to act now - before it is too late for our most vulnerable neighbors. Caritas Village is the bold step needed. Caritas Village is a place to find home.

Len Marabella is CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

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