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Work starts on sanctioned homeless camp near Oakmont

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Sonoma County officials and the sanctioned camp’s nonprofit operator will host a community meeting about the site at 9 a.m. Friday at the Berger Center on Oakmont Drive.

The parking lot has faded lines. It serves an abandoned building.

It has little purpose except to offer a paved space for those passing through — lunchtime walks for workers at Sonoma County’s Los Guilicos Juvenile Justice Center; mid-day jaunts for seniors and their pets from the nearby Oakmont neighborhood.

But by 7 a.m. Thursday, it will begin a metamorphosis, as crews establish an emergency homeless shelter complete with individual units, a warming station and service hub, showers and even a dog run with kennels.

The temporary shelter off Highway 12, within a pocket of far-eastern Santa Rosa, is meant for up to 60 people now living about 9 miles away — in the sprawling homeless camp that’s overtaken the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa.

The $2 million plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors during a tense meeting Tuesday, came over the objections of Oakmont neighbors, and their opposition looks to be growing.

“They’re concerned about security. They’re concerned about what to expect. They’re concerned about what kind of folks might be moving in across the street,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area and fought the location. “Should they expect those folks to walk through the neighborhood? Are they going to be walking across Highway 12?”

Neighbors will have a chance to ask their questions and vent their frustration at a 9 a.m. community meeting Friday at the Berger Center in the Oakmont neighborhood. Nearly 200 have already reached out to Gorin in the past two days, she said.

At the parking lot on Wednesday, Oakmont resident Richard Shore offered his own advice to the man tapped to run the 90-day emergency camp, set for closure April 30.

Jack Tibbetts, the Santa Rosa city councilman, runs the nonprofit Society of St. Vincent De Paul, which the county picked to run the encampment. Tibbetts was visiting Wednesday to hammer out details of the camp’s operation with county staff.

Shore was finishing a walk with his border collie, Chance, when he sidled up to Tibbetts on the south side of the parking lot. He said he figured the nearby St. Francis Winery on Pythian Road wouldn’t be too happy about the new homeless camp, and he guaranteed that Oakmont residents would be staunch opponents.

Tibbetts promised his organization would be accountable to the public. The site, in the large parking lot at the southwest corner of the campus off Los Guilicos Road, will be secured and shielded from view by an 8-foot fence, Tibbetts said. It will have a strict 7 p.m. curfew for campers, he said.

“I’m excited because the site is better than we assumed it would be,” Tibbetts said later, via text message. “It is contained, and it will be accommodating for our guests and serve their needs well.”

There is a clear downside, Tibbetts offered, namely its distance from key services. It is more than 8 miles from the city’s main homeless services hub in downtown. It sits more than a mile from Oakmont’s boutique grocery and lacks safe or easy pedestrian passage into the city center.

Tibbetts said tentative plans call for hourly shuttle service between the site and downtown Santa Rosa, as well as a suite of basic health and social services.

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Sonoma County officials and the sanctioned camp’s nonprofit operator will host a community meeting about the site at 9 a.m. Friday at the Berger Center on Oakmont Drive.

Tibbetts declined to share his opinion as a Santa Rosa councilman about the county’s choice of location, citing the potential conflict of interest.

If he runs for reelection, the first-term councilman would be seeking a district-based seat that now includes the Oakmont area. Residents in the area already treat him as their representative on the council, he said. But based on advice from the city attorney, he said he is answering any questions posed to him about the Los Guilicos encampment strictly from his perspective as site operator, in charge of St. Vincent De Paul.

He said the unusual split role offered his constituents accountability “on two fronts.”

The tree-lined campus, situated between Highway 12 and Hood Mountain Regional Park in the Mayacamas Mountains, is home to the county’s juvenile detention center, as well as the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, the county’s emergency shelter for at-risk kids.

Much of the campus is occupied by crumbling and asbestos-ridden buildings abandoned years ago.

The tasting room at St. Francis Winery and Vineyards sits less than 400  yards away, across Pythian Road, and the iconic, turreted castle for Ledson Winery is a half mile to the north. Neighbors say the area is no place for a homeless camp.

Oakmont, “an active adult community” with more than 4,500 residents, features a small commercial strip of banks and financial services, real estate brokerages and the Oakmont Village Market. The average price for its small- to medium-sized homes is in the low $600,000s. Known for its well-manicured yards and tidy appearance — courtesy of a strict set of bylaws set by its homeowners association — the community is monitored by a wide network of surveillance cameras, a fact spelled out in prominent signs near the neighborhood gateway off Highway 12.

The emergency shelter at Los Guilicos is meant to help the county clear campers off the Joe Rodota Trail by Jan. 31.

The trail camp has become in recent months a type of linear village, home to at least 220 people. Some of its structures have taken on a look of permanence, with solid walls and couches. One campsite features a mailbox. At another, a two-story shelter lurches skyward, a towering creation of wood pallets and other scrap materials. Extension cords splay out across the trail to the west, connected to generators that power campers’ electrical devices.

Picking 60 people to relocate to the far-flung Los Guilicos campus will require outreach from workers and buy-in from residents, officials said.

Health Services Director Barbie Robinson, who this week took over as interim head of the Community Development Commission — the county’s lead homelessness agency — said those at risk of death, exploitation or physical abuse, plus seniors and those suffering from severe or persistent mental illness or medical conditions would be given priority. It remained unclear what day in the next two weeks the camp will open.

Gorin said she expects such details to be central to the Friday forum.

“I think they will want to know the kind of folks that might be living there,” she said, “and whether or not they should be alarmed by the kind of folks moving in.”

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