Lives cut short in Santa Rosa trail camp reflect grim toll of homelessness
George Somersall was a music lover, a break dancer, a caring uncle — and the type to win $2 at a casino and carry on like a lottery winner, said his brother, Keith Faber.
He was a risk taker who wasn’t afraid of a bar fight, Faber said, and “he was fun no matter what the circumstances were.”
He also lived with HIV for nearly three decades, and his struggles with the disease intensified when he became homeless a few years ago after his mother lost the home where they’d been living, Faber said.
“He was very tough, but he wasn’t made for that type of life,” Faber said of his older brother.
Faber and his children lived with Somersall along the Joe Rodota Trail behind the Dollar Tree on Sebastopol Road after losing their home in the 2017 fires. When they finally found a new place to live in February, Somersall — whose nickname was “Moosho,” given to him by his grandmother, a Dry Creek Pomo member — would sometimes stay with them, eating more than seemingly possible for his small frame, Faber said.
But Somersall had started using drugs while homeless, Faber said, and his living situation and preexisting illness combined to take a heavy toll.
The fan of AC/DC and Tupac who also listened to country and techno music died on Sept. 25 at the age of 51. He was found in his tent along the Joe Rodota Trail.
“He loved everybody on the trail,” Faber said.
Somersall was one of three homeless people, all men, to die in 2019 along the Joe Rodota Trail, where a large encampment has become entrenched along county parkland in west Santa Rosa.
Their deaths are a reflection of the grim toll that years without permanent shelter can exact on individuals, including shortened lifespans that are all too common across Sonoma County’s homeless population of 3,000 people.
People without stable housing live about 25 years less, on average, than those with homes, according to a 2019 survey of Sonoma County’s homeless population, which cited a national study from 2008.
Two-thirds of local homeless people without regular access to shelter reported at least one health condition, most commonly drug or alcohol abuse, as well as psychiatric problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disabilities. Like Somersall, nearly 90% of survey respondents said they had been living in the county before becoming homeless.
“It’s difficult to get heath care for conditions that have nothing to do with being homeless, and the stress of homelessness causes and exacerbates illnesses,” Adrienne Lauby, an advocate with the Homeless Action group, said in an email. “A homeless person dies a little bit every day.”
The most recent recorded death on the trail was on Nov. 18, when 68-year-old James Jones was found dead in his tent, apparently from natural causes and with no signs of foul play, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department’s preliminary investigation.
Jones had known medical conditions and appeared to have been dead for more than a day before he was discovered by a neighboring camper, police said. A coroner’s investigation into his death remains open, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.