PD Editorial: Lost in Paradise II: A conversation about homelessness
Preliminary results of the latest homeless count shows the number of people living on the streets in Sonoma County is continuing to fall. The total declined 37 percent from 2011 to 2015, and it’s dropped another 8 percent since then.
But that needs to be kept in perspective. The number of people without a home in Sonoma County is still 5.7 per 1,000 residents - a rate that’s three times the national average.
And it’s a rate that remains unacceptable.
How much so will be a topic of discussion later today at Lost in Paradise II, a public forum on homelessness to be held in downtown Santa Rosa. A follow-up on a panel discussion held two years to address the alarming rise in homelessness at the time, this panel will feature local elected officials, advocates for the homeless community, Santa Rosa’s chief of police and a downtown merchant discussing what has happened in the past two years and what still needs to be done.
As for what has been accomplished, the list is long. County and city officials have come up with new ways for coordinating with local nonprofit groups in working with the homeless and getting them as quickly as possible into emergency shelters through a “Rapid Re-Housing” initiative. The county and the city have taken other steps, including creating safe-parking areas for homeless to sleep in cars and trucks. But probably the most significant changes occurred in recent weeks with the opening of two shelters. One is the Social Advocates for Youth Dream Center, which will provide temporary and permanent housing for up to 63 people, while providing job training for dozens of others between the ages of 14 to 24. The other is the Palms Inn in Santa Rosa, a 104-unit motel that has been converted into 60 units for homeless veterans and 44 for chronically homeless people.
Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors has set its sights even higher in seeking to create 2,000 permanent housing units for homeless people within the next decade, with a goal of ending homelessness in the county by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, one that would require an investment of roughly $110 million.
In the meantime, homelessness persists. And although the numbers have gone down, the public perception of the problem - particularly as it relates to the chronically homeless in downtown Santa Rosa - has only grown. This is related to the relocation of dozens of chronically homeless individuals who have made their homes for years along the refurbished Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit tracks.
The latest homeless census, which was conducted in January before the opening of the Dream Center and the Palms Inn, found :
A total of 2,844 persons were considered homeless during a 24-hour period. Of those, 916 people were living in shelters or transitional housing, while 1,906 were living in unsheltered locations.
Nearly 14 percent of those without shelter were homeless families with children.
More than 2,300 were single adults over the age of 24. Of those, 699 were identified as chronically homeless. And 10 percent of the homeless population were veterans.
More information on the census will be shared at the forum tonight at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Ave., beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The bottom line is that, on any given night, the total number of people living outside is more than 1,900. That would be akin to filling Haehl Pavilion at Santa Rosa Junior College to capacity and then telling everyone in the audience to go live outdoors.
It’s time to bring them back inside.