Time appears to be running out for 100 or more homeless individuals who have settled in a southwest Santa Rosa business park, drawing the ire of local workers and provoking concern among city leaders, police and local advocates in recent months.
Public officials aren’t yet ready to clear out the entire encampment, though they are developing a strategy to address what’s become a significant public nuisance and a health and safety threat, with improper waste disposal, discarded hypodermic needles, littering and other troubling issues, like vandalism, at play.
Increased enforcement activity around the encampment over the two weeks suggests a broader operation is looming, similar to largescale efforts to disband other sizable encampments around Santa Rosa over the past year. “You can feel it,” one camper, Bryan Moreno, 52, said Monday.
The 250-acre Northpoint Corporate Center has become the latest focal point in an ongoing debate about unauthorized camping and a region-wide shortage of affordable housing and shelter for those who are experiencing homelessness.
Efforts have been under way for weeks to place some of those who live at the business park into appropriate housing or shelter, but many people can’t find available space in setting that feel suitable for them.
“That’s why we’re out there talking to people, trying to understand their needs,” said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, which partners with the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County for outreach and engagement services, among others.
But what started as a small number of people, mostly in recreational vehicles and trailers, who started staying in the area months ago swelled substantially this summer, in the wake of evictions at neighboring encampments in Roseland last spring and subsequent action to relocate stragglers who simply moved their tents a short distance to the Joe Rodota Trail.
Last week, police and members of a grassroots organization called Homeless Action! counted about 100 people in RVs and other vehicles lining Challenger, Capricorn, Mercury and Apollo ways in the center of the business park.
Another 10 or so, among the most recent arrivals, were sleeping in tents and under tarps — most of them set up in the street after police officers earlier warned them they were prohibited from camping on private property.
Last week, fencing installed around one large parcel bordered by the homeless forced anyone with property still on the grass to move it or lose it, prompting a handful of people to pack up and leave.
Two people also were cited last week for illegal dumping of wastewater into the gutter, which leads to the storm drain, police said.
Then Monday, police representatives and city vehicle abatement workers arrived and towed two unregistered, inoperable vehicles in which people had been living.
Other in tents were told they would not be allowed to camp there in the future, while one mans also was cited for having a pop-out trailer that extended too far into the street.
That man, Robert Viale, 43, had just arrived two days earlier after being forced out of another place in Santa Rosa that he had been staying.
“Everywhere I’ve parked, city security or private security told me I couldn’t stay,” he said.