Artist helps make Santa Rosa shelter at Los Guilicos home for former Joe Rodota Trail residents

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For more stories about Sonoma County's homeless crisis, go here.

When Tina Hood moved off the Joe Rodota Trail to Sonoma County’s first sanctioned camp at a parking lot on the Los Guilicos Juvenile Justice Center campus, one of the first things she did was pick a work of art to decorate her new home.

Hood, 49, chose a sign that depicted two Native Americans paddling in a canoe because it reminded her of her father, who was born in Fort Bragg and was Aleut Indian.

“Having that on my door makes me feel even closer to my father, even here,” Hood said.

Hood was among the 60 people who moved from the Joe Rodota Trail homeless encampment to the county’s temporary sanctioned camp at the end of January. To welcome the residents to their new homes, Creative Sonoma hired local artist, graphic designer and painter Kristen Throop to create unique signs that would help them distinguish the identical, 64-square-foot units. Each resident chose which sign they wanted on the outside of their door.

“This is something for the people who are living in (the homes) that makes them distinctive and makes them unique,” Throop said. “I think a lot of times in life you’re kind of scratching your head and trying to think of how you can do something good in the world, and this just feels like such a wonderful example of being able to offer something to somebody.”

One woman named Samantha chose a painting of a graceful swan, its gosling nestled in the feathers of its mother’s back. It’s a reminder of the relationship she hopes one day to rebuild with her 6-year-old son, she said.

Joe Garcia, 59, selected a portrait of a yawning black-and-white dog that reminds him of his 6-month-old pup, Bear, or “Oso,” who likes to play in the fenced, gravel yard opposite his new digs.

Thesha Iraheta selected a painting of a veiled Arabian princess being carried on a litter — then she glammed it up, adding her own rhinestones and glitter.

“The princess had no sparkle. She had no glitz!” said Iraheta, 30.

Karen Jones, 48, has a far more complicated connection to the artwork on her door. It’s a portrait of famed punk-era musician, poet and author Patti Smith asleep beneath the outlines of Alice in Wonderland upon a great toadstool, modeled after a well-known statute of Alice with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit in New York City’s Central Park.

On the one hand, Jones said, “I’m Alice. I’ve always had an addiction to addicts. I’ve been chasing them down rabbit holes my whole life.”

On the other, Alice’s posture suggests that of guardian. “Alice protects me,” Jones said.

The signs, which were printed on aluminum panels and stuck directly onto the aluminum doors of the white, Spartan units, all share the same theme: small spaces. Throop said the small homes at the camp inspired her to design images that showed the beauty and dignity of small spaces. Some of the signs she created depict a rabbit emerging from a magician’s hat, a frog on a lily pad, Abraham Lincoln in his log cabin and an astronaut in a space capsule.

“In our American culture, we place great value on space,” said Kristen Madsen, director of Creative Sonoma. “But what is true is that wonderful things happen in tiny spaces.”

For more stories about Sonoma County's homeless crisis, go here.

Throop said she cares deeply about the housing crisis in California, which motivated her to get involved when Creative Sonoma emailed local artists about the project. She said she wanted to help the incoming residents feel comfortable and proud of their new homes.

For Hood, the Los Guilicos Village is a fresh start. Before she moved, she had been living on the Joe Rodota Trail for about six months and had been using drugs on and off for nearly 20 years. But her new home — which has four walls and a heater, she said gleefully — is the “first step to (her) new life.”

“I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, and I’ll be on the right track,” Hood said. “And that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Many of her neighbors, like Morene Garcia, similarly aim to make positive changes while they have reliable access to warm shelter, three meals a day and support services at Los Guilicos Village, slated to be in operation until April 30.

Garcia, 50, said she was stunned to realize while filling out paperwork that she had not been housed for five years already and had recently seen her adult daughter join the encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail. So she eagerly accepted the invitation to try something better in hopes her daughter would join her, which she has, and has now been clean and sober for over a month and plans to keep it going.

“I try to go to meetings every day,” Garcia said. “I’m going to utilize every program I can.”

Her door sign features a mother koala bear holding its baby, hand on a high branch.

The mother, she said, “is pulling them both up.”

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