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PD Editorial: Progress on homelessness but unfulfilled promises, too

The arrival of two dozen trailers from the state is the latest in a series of encouraging signs that our community is making progress toward providing shelter for the homeless. But local officials still have critical deadlines to meet — and more than a few promises to fulfill — to ensure progress continues.

The trailers are being installed at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. They will house a portion of the estimated 100 to 115 people who have been staying in dorms and a recreation center at Sonoma State University since March.

In addition to setting up the trailers, county officials are in the process renting hotel rooms to transfer unsheltered people from the university. That work needs to be done quickly. The university wants the dorms cleared by Friday and the campus recreation center by Aug. 7.

SSU opened its doors to the homeless as part of an emergency plan to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, but the university needs that space back to prepare for the school year. That housing was temporary; the trailers are permanent.

Other progress also is under way. Santa Rosa, for example, plans to build a new outdoor space at Samuel L. Jones Hall to accommodate 60 people. The extra capacity is needed to replace spots lost when the pandemic forced officials to space beds further apart inside the shelter.

Sonoma County officials, meanwhile, hope to tap into the Project Homekey, a state program that enables localities to access federal funding to purchase hotels and motels to house the homeless. The Board of Supervisors is in the “due diligence” phase of negotiations to buy the 42-room Hotel Azura at College and Mendocino avenues in downtown Santa Rosa.

Initially, the hotel would be revamped to house elderly and medically frail residents. Officials are also considering long-term use as permanent housing for people in the workforce who don’t have a place to live.

There’s a sense of urgency to the hotel plan, too, because federal funding expires in six months if not spent.

Much more work lies ahead. County supervisors, for starters, have pledged to find a site in each of their districts to help shelter the homeless. They need to deliver, particularly after failing to keep a commitment to close the Los Guilicos camp by April 30. The board recently voted to continue it indefinitely at the site off Highway 12.

During a recent debate over the Hotel Azura plan, Santa Rosa Councilman Chris Rogers highlighted an important point while relaying concerns from residents in the nearby St. Rose area that services for the homeless are heavily concentrated in one area. “This is a communitywide issue, and it needs a communitywide response,” Rogers said. “Not just a St. Rose response, not just a downtown response.”

That’s true. Every part of the community needs to shoulder responsibility for ensuring that the homeless have a safe, healthy shelter during the pandemic. And every part of the community needs to be part of creating a long-term solution that transitions people into lasting homes, rather than an endless array of emergency shelters and camps that too often become health and safety concerns.

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