Santa Rosa program will give free dental care to homeless veterans

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Free dental care will be offered Saturday to homeless veterans at a reconditioned Santa Rosa motel that now houses 116 formerly homeless people, including vets.

The one-day program at The Palms is co-sponsored by Michael Ottolini Amvets Post 40 and Rohnert Park Smiles Dentistry, which has rounded up a team of five volunteer dentists and about 20 support staff, including hygienists and dental assistants, for the clinic from 9 a.m. until about 3:30 p.m.

Matthew Jensen, an Iraq war veteran who is commander of Post 40, said Thursday that 30 veterans have made appointments and at least 10 more are on a waiting list. Organizers hope to provide care for as many homeless veterans or other veterans in need of dental care as time permits Saturday.

Some of the 60 formerly homeless veterans who have moved into The Palms this year found their teeth hurt too much to eat fresh vegetables provided weekly by the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Jensen said.

Dental care is a “missing link” in services to veterans, he said. “There’s a lot of guys out there who have no option to get dental work.”

Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, which operates The Palms, said that dental care “often falls to the back burner” for people living on the streets. “The need far outweighs the resources,” she said.

Restoring dental health also is important to the well-being and self-esteem of the formerly homeless veterans, especially for those going out on job interviews, Holmes said.

Public officials and homeless advocates have hailed the conversion of The Palms, formerly a motel on Santa Rosa Avenue, into permanent housing as a much-needed and novel approach to homelessness.

Veterans who have moved into The Palms had VA housing vouchers but were unable to find landlords who would accept them, officials said.

Sonoma County’s latest homeless survey, conducted on Jan. 28 and 29, found 274 homeless veterans, including 54 living in shelters and 220 who were sleeping in a car, abandoned building or in the open.

That number was up 26 percent from the 217 homeless veterans counted last year. However, the count came before The Palms opened and took in 60 veterans, said Jenny Abramson, homeless and community services manager for the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said that homelessness among veterans nationally declined 17 percent between 2015 and 2016.

Holmes said she hopes the free dental services at The Palms can become a regular event.

Jensen said veterans who want to get on the waiting list should call him at 695-0173 or Bianca Delmont, site coordinator at The Palms, at 696-0061.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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