Sonoma County officials clear Joe Rodota Trail of large homeless encampment
Lisa Swaney, 40, has been homeless for 28 years. And in that time, she’s been a rock for countless others, making it hard for her not to feel the dread Friday morning along the Joe Rodota Trail.
As authorities finally evicted the largest homeless camp in Sonoma County history, Swaney wasn’t sure where to go.
“Just as soon as we started feeling comfortable or secure and might be ready to finally take that next step (to recovery), they come and do this,” Swaney said, scanning the inside of a tent she had set up along the trail in September. “We’re back to, ‘Where are we going to stay tonight? Are the cops going to come?’ It’s back to turmoil.”
Dozens of campers hurriedly gathered their belongings as authorities went tent to tent along the 2-mile village. The clearing operation represented the culmination of a monthslong tussle between county officials and homeless advocates over plans to relocate trail campers to shelters. In late December, Sonoma County supervisors decided to spend nearly $12 million on a variety of temporary and permanent shelters and services. Also, they promised the community they would clear the Rodota encampment by the end of January.
The county spent about $2 million of that money on a temporary shelter at Los Guilicos juvenile justice campus in east Santa Rosa where 60 tiny homes were erected in a parking lot across from the Oakmont retirement community. On Friday, 12 more people were taken from the trail to Los Guilicos, filling the last remaining spots at the camp expected to remain open until at least April 30.
County officials had called the trail’s burgeoning encampment a humanitarian crisis in light of escalating public health and safety concerns, including a rat infestation along the trail. At its peak, there were as many as 250 homeless people living along the west Santa Rosa trail.
“This is a commitment that we made and I think that it’s important that we kept to that commitment,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose west county district includes the Rodota trail, of clearing it. “It’s been a hard day ... and I think that, honestly, clearing one large encampment is just a reminder that this is only 7% of the homeless population in the county and that we just have so much work still to do to meaningfully address homelessness.”
Friday’s eviction went relatively smoothly and no one was arrested or cited, county spokeswoman Melissa Valle said. Officials stressed in the weeks leading up to the sweep arresting homeless people was a “last resort” they hoped they wouldn’t have to do.
Although no one was arrested, park rangers did have issues with a few campers. One man, Stephen Floyd, was nearly detained after refusing to clean up his campsite or accept any services arranged by the county.
He said he wanted to be arrested, that jail would be a vacation from his experience on the trail. Park rangers convinced him to take the afternoon to clean up his site.
“I don’t want to be here,” Floyd said. “This path has hurt me honestly. But it has made me and my friends closer.”
The trail section between Roberts Avenue and South Wright Road that had been occupied by homeless residents will be closed to the public for the next few weeks as officials clean it.