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Residents selected for Sonoma County 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 Berger Center on Oakmont Drive.

The emergency shelters aren’t yet built, but Sonoma County officials already have selected many of the future residents for a sanctioned homeless camp on the north side of the Sonoma Valley, prioritizing 48 of the most vulnerable residents now living in squalor at the sprawling homeless encampment of about 220 people along the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa.

County leaders say people at risk of death, exploitation or physical abuse, plus seniors and those suffering from severe or persistent mental illness or medical conditions would have priority.

A needs assessment, as of Thursday afternoon, had yielded a high-priority list of 28 people and another 20 people at risk, said Rohish Lal, a county spokesman.

With some homeless residents forced to find another place to pitch their tents, others — at least 48 of them to start — will be welcomed to Los Guilicos, each being given a private, $4,500 shelter complete with an outlet to power devices, a bed and a heater.

Those 48 residents will be brought to the site at the Los Guilicos campus, a far-flung parking lot on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa, across Highway 12 from the Oakmont retirement community.

The $2 million temporary homeless sheltering plan, unveiled Tuesday by county officials as a stopgap measure until April 30, has drawn fierce criticism from Oakmont neighbors.

During a 45-minute period Thursday afternoon, more than two dozen cars passed by the Los Guilicos site, turned around and drove back across Highway 12 as Oakmont residents examined the area that will soon be home to a population that has sparked fear among some in the community of 3,000-plus tidy houses with well-manicured lawns.

“All will feel the brunt of the presence of the encampment,” said Oakmont resident Brenda Steele in an email. “Still shaking my head.”

Caroline Judy, the county’s general services director, said the county has never done something like this — offering prefabricated outdoor shelters to a portion of the county’s homeless population, even for the planned 90-day period. But she said she’s excited about the site’s ability to help address the escalating crisis at the Joe Rodota Trail encampment some 9 miles away.

“It’s a really lovely, serene site,” Judy said. “For people who are coming from kind of traumatic experiences, I’m hoping it’s a healing site. There’s lovely places to walk. It’s a very calming environment out here.”

Back at the Rodota Trail, a man named Joshua was busy changing his socks, balancing on some fabric to keep his bare feet out of the mud. Dry socks are important here. The cold, wet conditions have helped foster an outbreak of trench foot, an ailment most commonly associated with WWI soldiers.

Joshua was happy to have the socks. He wasn’t exactly pleased about the county’s intention to clear the trail, saying he’s had no communication with people about where he could go.

Joshua hadn’t heard about the planned Los Guilicos shelter. He’s trying to find a new spot before the end of the month.

“The only place I know of is Sam Jones,” he said, referring to the Santa Rosa-funded, Catholic Charities-run Samual L. Jones Hall shelter with nearly 200 beds.

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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 Berger Center on Oakmont Drive.

County 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 county teams have worked with Rodota trail residents to identify specific needs, and are arranging temporary shelter for people accordingly. The county won’t, for example, suggest a spot in one of two houses county officials recently bought for $2.15 million if people aren’t ready for housing. They’ll also prioritize keeping family, or friends, together.

For the Los Guilicos site, the county is getting the shelters from Seattle-based Pallet, a 4-year-old company that has contracted for work in Tacoma, Washington; Lynnwood, Washington; and Dallas, Texas. It has deployed 49 units total, and the Los Guilicos site will host 60 with a solar panel for each.

The beauty of the shelters, CEO Amy King said in a phone interview Tuesday, is that they can easily be set up, torn down and relocated for other uses.

King said the shelters take 30 minutes to set up, but by 3 p.m. Thursday after working since 7 a.m., only one of the shelters was complete.

“Part of what’s taking the time is we’ve gotta level them out,” Judy said. “The parking lot’s not level.”

They also have to seismically brace the structures to make sure they’re up to code. Bases for the aluminum structures sat on mismatched bricks, a level on top of the base to ensure a square foundation.

The county bought these structures, and Judy said it’s likely the county will use these — as well as larger, two-person units on order — at other, perhaps permanent homeless shelter sites in the future.

Judy said the Los Guilicos site was guaranteed to be open by the time the Joe Rodota Trail camp was closed Jan. 29, but it may open sooner depending on construction delays. Although 48 people already have tentatively confirmed as being among the first residents, others have said they have no interest in moving there.

Jesse Johnson was posted up outside of a portable toilet, smoking a cigarette near an entrance to the Joe Rodota Trail adjacent to the Ross department store off Stony Point Road. He admits the conditions aren’t particularly favorable. His hands hurt from the cold, he said.

But in the wake of the powerful rainstorm, amid biting cold, Johnson still scoffed at moving out to Los Guilicos, saying “that’s like putting us off in the middle of nowhere.”

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

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