Time is running out for a community of about 100 homeless people who have settled in a southwest Santa Rosa business park, where they’ve drawn the ire of local workers and prompted concern among city leaders, police and housing advocates.
The city is stepping up actions to enforce local laws at Northpoint Corporate Center and is preparing a strategy to roust people living in RVs, campers and tents in the business park.
The site has become a significant public nuisance and a health and safety risk, with improper disposal of human waste, discarded hypodermic needles, vandalism, littering and other issues in play.
Recent enforcement activity at Northpoint Corporate Center suggests a large-scale operation is looming.
“You can feel it,” one camper, Bryan Moreno, 52, said Monday.
But most of those sleeping there don’t know where to go. And while the camp has thinned out a bit over the past week amid a greater police presence and some limited enforcement actions, most in the community remain and are simply holding their breath.
The 250-acre business park is the latest focal point in a charged public discussion over the vexing problems of unauthorized camping and a shortage of housing and shelter space in the region.
Homeless people began moving into the business park several months ago, parking a handful of RVs and trailers along its streets. The homeless population in the business park has swelled significantly this summer in the wake of evictions last spring at neighboring Roseland encampments and the subsequent break-up of tent villages that rose up along the Joe Rodota Trail.
By last week, about 100 vehicles in varying states of repair — some previously abandoned — and about 10 recently erected tents and tarp lean-tos lined empty parcels in the area of Challenger, Capricorn, Apollo and Mercury ways.
Many of the tent dwellers moved their shelters onto the street two weeks ago, when police told them they could be arrested for camping on private land.
Bicycle parts, mattresses, clothes, barbecues and other belongings littered some lawn areas. Local businesses also have reported some vandalism and trespassing, as well as bathing in decorative ponds.
“Lack of toilet facilities for the people in the office park is causing problems that are both visible and disgusting, so we’re rapidly losing patience,” said Keith Woods, president of the property owner association and chief executive of North Coast Builders Exchange, headquartered on Apollo Way.
One property owner last week fenced vacant land lined on three sides by vehicles used as homes, bringing the chain link down to the curb so campers needed to move their belongings or lose them to the dump. A handful of people departed the area then. Two RV users were cited for improper disposal of wastewater, police said.
Others in the encampment are doing what they can to keep their own belongings neat and out of sight. “At least it shows police that we’re moving in that direction,” said one, Peter Peirano, 31.
A multi-disciplinary team of outreach workers also has been heavily engaged with the population, making transition plans for at least 30 people, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, which leads the effort. Four have been placed into housing so far, she said.