Santa Rosa’s thousands of homeless residents live in cars, camps and shelters
Capricia Moore’s path to homelessness is written in the lines on her weathered face.
She dropped out of Santa Rosa High School at 16, had two kids, and struggled with a drug addiction that landed her in jail.
Unable to find steady work and suffering from depression, she bounced around before finding her place in a Santa Rosa encampment known as Homeless Hill.
Located on a brush-covered hillside at Farmers Lane and Bennett Valley Road, the sprawling complex of tents and terraced living spaces has existed for more than a decade.
At its peak, it was home to as many as 50 people, but numbers have dwindled with recent efforts to move inhabitants into shelters.
Moore arrived in January with her dog, Demi. They live together in a large tent with a tarped-off area covered in old furniture and carpet.
“The rain gets to me,” said the 46-year-old woman clad in a red sun dress as she tidied her makeshift kitchen. “But the people I live next to — you couldn’t ask for better people.”
Advocates said Moore and others are among 10 percent of the county’s estimated 2,000 homeless people who refuse to pursue regular housing. Curfews, restrictions on drug and alcohol consumption, and pet ownership make living in makeshift camps more attractive.
That’s a problem for the city, which bought the land years ago with plans to extend Farmers Lane. It has become an environmental nightmare of sorts, covered in heaps of trash, discarded bicycle parts and human feces, said Santa Rosa police Lt. John Cregan.
“You have to be careful where you step because it’s all over the place,” he said.
In addition, occupants have vandalized the neighboring Congregation Shomrei Torah, stealing water and electric power using extension cords, Cregan said.
In an attempt to clean up the property, city Public Works Department crews have begun dropping off industrial-size plastic garbage bags that get filled by homeless people and are picked up once a week.
Recently, advocates approached the occupants, offering to put them into a hotel on Santa Rosa Avenue converted to temporary housing for homeless people.
“A big group left but the others said they were not interested,” Cregan said. “They were going to move out. They appear to have come back.”
Homeless Hill is the largest of several camps remaining around Santa Rosa. Another big camp is in the Fountaingrove area, behind Home Depot. Smaller camps are set up along creeks, the Prince Memorial Greenway and in Howarth Park.
“The sad reality is a lot of people out there don’t want services,” Cregan said. “They will take free food and free Target gift cards but they don’t want shelter. They can’t follow the rules.”
Among the Homeless Hill residents is Katie Bateman, 43, who has been living there off and on for six years.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, sitting in a tent nestled in thick brush just yards from speeding traffic on Bennett Valley Road.
Bateman, who became disabled and unable to work after being hit by a car, said she and her boyfriend are doing their part, filling the city’s trash bags with old debris.
But she said “riff raff” keep bringing more. And police keep pestering her to leave.
“The cops want us to go, but where?” she said. “What do you want us to do?”
At the top of the hill with a million-dollar view of east Santa Rosa, Chris Hackett, 34, poked his head out of his tent.
Hackett, who has lived on the hill for more than two years, said he and his girlfriend are on a waiting list to get into Sam Jones Hall. He found himself living outside after being evicted from his apartment and serving time in jail for drunken driving, he said.
“Somebody told me to come up here one day,” Hackett said, standing beside a pile of junked bicycles. “It’s pretty safe, but it’s dusty. And there are rodents.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.