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St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County seeks to lend hand to Santa Rosa RV dwellers

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Michael Nesta walked up Apollo Way in southwest Santa Rosa Friday afternoon, speaking to owners of dozens of vehicles and RVs parked on the street in southwest Santa Rosa’s Corporate Center Parkway.

Nesta, St. Vincent de Paul’s disaster relief case manager, carried a clipboard that contained the names of up to 50 people who were living in their vehicles, a number of them displaced by last year’s wildfires.

Next to their names were dollar amounts for how much it would cost to get their vehicles legally back on the road — the cost of smog tests, vehicle registration and insurance. The total amount for all the applicants combined was between $10,000 and $20,000, he said.

“We’re here to help people in order to keep them in compliance so that they don’t lose shelter and mobility,” said Nesta.

Nesta said mobility is necessary in order for people to employed, take their children to school and, in this case, to have a place to live while they’re in transition.

Last week, St. Vincent de Paul’s executive director, Jack Tibbetts, after speaking to activists with Homeless Action, brought the matter to his executive committee, which approved the use of up to $13,000 to help those living along Corporate Center Parkway.

“The last thing we all want is for people to lose their last line of defense, their quasi-housing,” said Tibbetts, who also is a member of the Santa Rosa City Council, on Friday. “I would call it a house; it’s better than a tent.”

The effort is taking place even as the city moves forward with a pilot program aimed at addressing the needs of those parked in the business park. That effort includes intensive outreach to connect people with homeless services, shelters, family support and permanent or temporary housing, including RV parks or campgrounds.

City housing and community services officials have scheduled a community meeting to discuss the plans at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Coast Builders Exchange, 1030 Apollo Way.

The city’s assistance plan also includes ongoing police enforcement to address criminal activity, removal of unregistered vehicles and RVs, illegal dumping and tent camping on streets. The city has set a tentative date of mid-September for a final enforcement that would have all residents removed from the area, officials said.

“There are numerous state and local statutes that prevent people from camping in a roadway,” said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Jonathan Wolf. “We are doing our best to be sensitive.”

Wolf said the city is trying to give people enough time to get their vehicles in compliance with registration and insurance requirements.

“The hope is that they get them operational, running and registered and leave the area,” he said.

For some of the roadway residents, the cost of such things as registration fees and smog tests is a big hurdle.

One man, who asked that his name not be used, said a property owner in Fountaingrove used to let him park his motor home there off and on before the Tubbs fire destroyed it.

He now lives in his Ford F250 and had no money to pay his $201 registration fee.

The man, who used to do building maintenance for a property management company, said he also has a motor home that is past due on its registration, as well as a $73 parking ticket for his truck. He has no money to pay any of it.

“Today, I went to a gas station holding a gas can and somebody gave me enough for two gallons,” he said.

Arienne Lauby, an advocate with Homeless Action, said the issue of vehicle registration is for those living in the business park is as crucial as a rental agreement or mortgage.

“To me these are mini-houses that are at risk of being destroyed or rotting in a tow lot,” she said. “Luckily St. Vincent agreed to try to partner with us.”

For more information about vehicle registration effort, visit St. Vincent de Paul at svdp-sonoma.org.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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