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Sonoma County allows portable toilets at Joe Rodota Trail homeless camp in Santa Rosa

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A week after an explosive meeting at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors over the growing homeless camp along the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa, portable toilets and hand-washing stations are now in place for the camp residents, a step activists urged in banners and comments at last week’s meeting.

Officials and activists on both sides have called the sprawling encampment — with at least 170 people and more than 140 tents — a public health crisis. Wrangling between homeless advocates and county officials ultimately led Sonoma County Regional Parks to issue permits allowing for eight portable toilets equipped with hand-washing stations.

The outhouses, delivered Tuesday, were sought by a group allied with Homeless Action, the local organization pushing for establishment of sanctioned encampments. The restrooms will be paid for by Sonoma Applied Village Services, the allied group, which is trying to raise money for the effort.

Adrienne Lauby, a leader with Homeless Action, could not be immediately reached for comment on the step.

Sonoma County Parks spokeswoman Meda Freeman said the permit was issued after consultation with the county’s Community Development Commission and the Department of Health Services.

The approval follows a raucous public meeting at which supervisors voiced some support for sanctioned encampments, at least as a temporary solution, while also searching for more permanent options from the Community Development Commission and residents.

The paved 8.5-mile Joe Rodota Trail leads between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, and the affected segment west of Stony Point Road has become a major flashpoint over homelessness, pitting the needs of the homeless community against the public’s right to safely use the pathway.

Concerns shared by neighbors, authorities and camp residents have risen about the spread of untreated human waste, substance abuse and garbage. The county was even prompted to install signs recommending people avoid the public trail.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting last week, homeless activists displayed a 12-foot banner reiterating their request to have portable toilets set up in the area.

In response, Supervisor James Gore, reflecting the frustration that has been evident on all sides, said: “I’m ready to see proposals. If you want to bring toilets, bring toilets. I don’t give a s--t.”

The comments capped a spirited meeting at which one person was kicked out and another flipped off a speaker.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district encompasses the trail encampment, said county leaders, in her view, were showing “a renewed sense of urgency” in addressing homelessness, “as well as a willingness to explore creative solutions.”

One of her predecessors representing the west county, former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, said homelessness has grown so visible in the county — with camps along roadways, spread throughout the lower Russian River and on various corners of public and private land — that it can’t be overlooked by local officials.

“Two years ago, they could ignore it,” Carpenter said. “Today, they can’t.”

Carpenter added that he’s not saying supervisors want to ignore it, and he gave them credit for recognizing the problem and looking for solutions.

In an interview Wednesday, Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board’s longest-serving member, said she wasn’t aware of supervisors providing specific direction on toilets, even if she does support the move in the meantime.

“The direction from the board was, ‘We’re not going to sit here for another eight weeks,’ ” Zane said, referring to the board’s desire to land on a solution before the new year.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ tylersilvy.

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