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Trailers intended for homeless housing arrive in Sonoma County

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

Temporary housing for homeless people arrived in Sonoma County on Thursday in the form of 10 travel trailers delivered by the state to county officials, who have yet to decide how to use the portable sleeping spaces.

Caltrans workers drove the trailers down from Chico, where they were used to house people after the 2018 Camp fire. They’re now sitting in a parking lot off Fiscal Drive on the county government campus, and that’s where they’ll likely stay until the Board of Supervisors chooses how to use them, a decision the board is set to make at its March 10 meeting.

The trailers, owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but handed over to the state, initially were thought to house four to six people each, giving the 10 trailers a capacity of 40 to 60 people. While some appeared quite spacious, Board Chairwoman Susan Gorin said she thought 20 to 30 people was a more realistic approximation of total occupancy.

Thursday’s delivery reflected another incremental step in addressing the county’s homelessness problem, she said.

“We’re learning a lot,” Gorin said. “As the adage goes, we’re flying the plane while constructing it.”

Supervisors next month are expected to consider up to a dozen possible locations on county land for indoor-outdoor shelters and narrow those down to three or four finalists, Gorin said. She said her understanding is that the county would select one site for the trailers and a second, more permanent location for the 60 tiny homes now on the Los Guilicos campus near Oakmont.

“Each of the trailers are appropriate for families, not necessarily four or five individuals,” Gorin said.

It’s unclear how long people will be allowed to stay in the trailers, though Gorin noted they’re intended as “triage” for people transitioning to permanent housing.

Sonoma County requested the trailers from the state in late January, shortly before the closure of the large sprawling encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in his annual State of the State address, announced the county would receive 10 of the 100 trailers made available for temporary homeless housing.

The March 10 discussion also is expected to include consideration of the dozens of state-owned sites in Sonoma County that Newsom’s administration made available for homeless housing.

Most of the local sites are in Santa Rosa, including the ribbon of undeveloped land once eyed by Caltrans for a Highway 12 extension, but long since targeted for a linear park with housing, commercial space and trails — a plan the Santa Rosa City Council approved last summer.

The trailers arrived a day before the county’s annual census of its homeless population. The tally, known as the point-in-time count, is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and takes place in local jurisdictions across the nation every winter.

Local officials sought and received permission to delay the count a month as a result of the crisis on the Joe Rodota Trail, where more than 250 people lived before the encampment was cleared in late January.

Data from the census is typically released in summer. Past counts have shown a drop in the homeless population over the first years of the past decade, with only slight fluctuations over the past five years, including an uptick in the wake of the 2017 fires.

Last year’s Jan. 25 census estimated a total of 2,951 people experiencing homelessness around the county — down 2% from a year earlier and well below the peak of 4,539 in 2011.

The delay in the count means it will coincide with the end of an unseasonably warm and historically dry February weather, perhaps making it easier to find and count Sonoma County’s homeless population, Gorin said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that our homeless count has ticked up a little bit,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com.

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

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