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Three in five campers along Joe Rodota Trail struck out on own after sweep

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Who was living on the Joe Rodota Trail?

At least 258 occupants assessed by county medical/behavioral health/social work staffers during December and January

134 agreed to share information for coordinated care management, including medical or behavioral health, social services and coordinated entry, facilitating future efforts to secure shelter and housing.

Of those who accepted housing from the county:

60 were placed at Los Guilicos Village

25 were placed at Sam Jones Hall

3 were placed at Mary Isaak Center

3 were placed at Family Support Center

2 were placed at Redwood Gospel Mission for men

1 was placed at Redwood Gospel Mission’s women’s shelter, The Rose

1 was placed at Nightingale respite center

2 were placed at medical facilities

2 were placed in residential treatment

1 received a short-term motel voucher

In addition, 61 people filed a formal request for a reasonable and appropriate housing alternative

Of 258 assessed;

57% male

43% female

Median age: 48 (18 to 77)

54% were 45 or older

11.5% were Latino

65.5% were white

11.5% were black or African American

6.2% were American Indian or Alaskan Native

5.3% identified as other

____

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

Three in every five residents of a massive homeless encampment that occupied the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa for six  months left the camp with nowhere to go when it was dismantled at the end of January, according to figures newly released by Sonoma County.

Officials say 100 people received placement in local shelters, including the new Los Guilicos Village composed of 60 tiny, individual structures erected just in time for the Jan. 31 trail clearance and closure.

Thirty-five others went to local shelters. Two went to medical facilities. Two went to substance abuse treatment settings. And one person, who already had subsidized housing lined up, got a voucher for a short-term motel stay, officials said.

But it appears at least 158 people — and no one knows how many more — either refused to engage with Sonoma County outreach workers or declined the shelter they were offered and simply left the trail for what was likely some other outdoor camp or makeshift shelter, according to the county report.

The data “is probably not that far off from what one could expect, quite frankly,” given the unique challenges and needs of each individual within the unsheltered population, said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt.

Many who experience homelessness have emotional and mental health issues, disabilities or post-traumatic stress, personal experience as victims of violence or sexual crimes that narrow the kind of housing they can tolerate, advocates say.

Outreach workers also face the challenge of not always being able to engage people with drug and alcohol dependency at times when they’re ripe for recovery, Rabbitt said. “Some of those things are not on your timeline,” he said.

Overall, the challenges are “very complex,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s no easy answer.”

“We understand,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, “that it’s going to take several efforts in order to house all the people, and we also understand that sometimes people are too sick to even be able to help themselves. We get that.”

Members of various citizens groups who worked with trail occupants, offering supplies and guidance as their growing encampment drew public sympathy, anger and alarm over the fall and winter months, say the reluctance of homeless residents to accept county help also reflects a legacy of distrust and the inadequacy of shelter options — often the same choice offered over and over.

“If we’re going to continue to (say), ‘Well homeless people just can’t be helped,’ then we’ve got some problems because that’s just not true,” said Marcos Ramirez, founder of the Squeaky Wheel Bicycle Coalition, which became active during the Rodota Trail encampment.

The county’s two-page report was released Tuesday afternoon, 11 days after residents of the squalid camp were required to leave the trail under threat of arrest. It is the first summary of results of an intensive, weekslong effort by the county’s Interdepartmental Multidisciplinary Team to connect residents with shelter and services in advance of the Jan. 31 eviction.

The teams consists of medical, behavioral health and social service staffers assigned to find out what benefits trail occupants qualify for; discuss how best to address any medical, mental health and substance abuse issues they may have had; and assess their individual housing needs and preferences.

Who was living on the Joe Rodota Trail?

At least 258 occupants assessed by county medical/behavioral health/social work staffers during December and January

134 agreed to share information for coordinated care management, including medical or behavioral health, social services and coordinated entry, facilitating future efforts to secure shelter and housing.

Of those who accepted housing from the county:

60 were placed at Los Guilicos Village

25 were placed at Sam Jones Hall

3 were placed at Mary Isaak Center

3 were placed at Family Support Center

2 were placed at Redwood Gospel Mission for men

1 was placed at Redwood Gospel Mission’s women’s shelter, The Rose

1 was placed at Nightingale respite center

2 were placed at medical facilities

2 were placed in residential treatment

1 received a short-term motel voucher

In addition, 61 people filed a formal request for a reasonable and appropriate housing alternative

Of 258 assessed;

57% male

43% female

Median age: 48 (18 to 77)

54% were 45 or older

11.5% were Latino

65.5% were white

11.5% were black or African American

6.2% were American Indian or Alaskan Native

5.3% identified as other

____

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

A primary focus of the effort was to prioritize vulnerable individuals for the $2 million tiny home village set up at the county’s Los Guilicos Juvenile Justice Center off Highway 12 across from Oakmont.

The shelter is intended to operate for 90 days, with the hope that by May 1, two indoor-outdoor shelters at still undetermined sites will be open, with room for 40 people each — though several supervisors have said there may still be discussion about extending the life of the temporary shelter another 90 days.

Sonoma County supervisors also are pursuing a variety of other proposals as part of a nearly $12 million emergency package approved in December to try to make a dent in a homelessness crisis that federal data show is one of the worst in the country for a midsize metropolitan area.

In the meantime, officials said they could not allow the county’s largest-ever unsanctioned camp to persist, given its location on a popular, regional park trail that had become littered with trash, used hypodermic needles and human waste and contributed to theft and other crime in nearby neighborhoods.

Under the provisions of a legal settlement reached last summer in a case related to a camp that was dismantled near the trail in April 2018, the county is required to offer encampment occupants an opportunity to be assessed by a trained worker and an offer of adequate shelter “reasonably suitable to the disability-related needs of the person” before they can be required to move.

The county report says its team assessed at least 258 occupants between December and January.

Even if every single person contacted and assessed by county workers had been willing to accept some kind of emergency shelter or transitional placement, officials conceded the county and its partners don’t have the capacity to accommodate everyone who was living on the trail — which was itself barely 9% of the county’s roughly 3,000 homeless people.

In addition to the 60  people assigned to Los Guilicos Village, 25 were sent to Sam Jones Hall — the county’s largest emergency shelter, with 213 beds — three each went to the Mary Isaak Center in Petaluma and the Family Support Center in Santa Rosa; two went to the Redwood Gospel Mission men’s shelter in Railroad Square and one to the mission’s women’s shelter, The Rose; and one went to the Nightingale respite program for those discharged from hospitals.

Outreach workers approached an unknown number of people who chose not to speak with them at all, recording 249  instances in which trail occupants declined to engage — though that number includes people who refused to participate multiple times and it is unclear how many individuals that figure represented, Department of Health Services spokesman Rohish Lal said.

He said 61 people filed formal requests for reasonable and adequate shelter alternatives under the legal settlement.

Alicia Roman, a civil rights attorney who represents many local homeless individuals, including plaintiffs in the city/county lawsuit, said people often get marked as “refusing services” without elaboration and maybe even without much discussion.

Many have specific reasons or histories that explain why, for instance, they decline offers of housing at Sam Jones Hall, which is the shelter most likely to have an opening at any given time, though often not one that works for people, she said.

Ramirez, with the Squeaky Wheel Bicycle Coalition, said the number and staging of county outreach workers was simply not conducive to the kind of relationship building needed to engage individuals who already were distrustful, particularly given the growing stress around the impending sweep of the trail.

There also were cases where outreach workers seemed to be waiting for trail residents to come to them, based on some “presumption that everybody on the trail knew that services awaited them up at the front,” Ramirez said.

“It just constantly bats things back to, ‘Well, homeless people just don’t want to be helped,’ ” he said.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said it remains an issue to grapple with, as the county moves forward on plans for new shelters, building capacity for platforms that provide “that first step back into stability, that first step back into being able to live inside a home.”

“I want to emphasize that the residents of the Joe Rodota Trail did not come from the Joe Rodota Trail,” Hopkins said. “We need to look at what circumstances created that large encampment in the first place.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been revised to correct Supervisor David Rabbitt's title and one instance where his last name was misspelled.

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