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Sonoma County supervisors approve $630,000 to support homeless services

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Sonoma County’s effort to prioritize housing for homeless people got another boost Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors signed off on more than $630,000 to fund outreach services targeting youth, newly homeless and those who are chronically without shelter.

The funding, spread between three Sonoma County nonprofits, expands outreach efforts to Sonoma Valley and extends work in Santa Rosa and along the lower Russian River, two of the areas with the greatest concentration of homeless people in the county.

The board action also continues the county’s safe parking program that allows people to sleep in vehicles overnight at nine Santa Rosa sites.

Supervisors and homeless advocates said the work is critical to further reduce homelessness, which has fallen in the past two years but become more visible as homeless people relocate from encampments along creek trails, train tracks and the river and into cities and towns, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Guerneville.

“We’ve made some inroads in terms of reducing the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets, but it is still very prevalent,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, noting many homeless are now sleeping in central Santa Rosa, part of the district she represents. “It’s a good thing that it’s more visible. It’s a reminder that we have a lot more work to do.”

This year, 2,906 people were tallied as part of the county’s annual homeless count, down 32 percent from the high of 4,280 in 2013. But efforts by homeless outreach teams to clear encampments from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line — effectively displacing people into urban areas — have also fast-tracked housing for some, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, which administers the outreach efforts.

“It’s helped us engage more people and link them with services because more people are connecting with them,” Holmes said. “Dislocation by the SMART train is definitely the biggest reason we’re seeing more people, but we’re also housing more people than ever.”

Supervisors on Tuesday extended two contracts with Catholic Charities, totaling $304,000, to support the homeless outreach team and safe parking program for the next year.

The board also authorized $150,000 for Social Advocates for Youth to provide 18- to 24-year-olds with housing assistance at the Dream Center, and expand the nonprofit’s outreach team to Sonoma Valley, where crews will assist homeless people with services such as health care and housing.

A county initiative to coordinate homeless services also received a boost of roughly $180,000.

Together, the county’s safe parking program and Catholic Charities’ homeless outreach team helped more than 250 people into housing last year, according to Holmes.

Still, much more needs to be done to address the problem, supervisors said.

“We have been pushing encampments away from our watersheds and railways, and the homeless population is going to continue being more present — where people shop, where people live — until we start building the housing units that we need to get people into quality shelter,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the board chairman.

You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 707-526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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