Stephen Toleson, 60, received a $695 check Tuesday afternoon to register his 1981 Dodge Sportsman RV with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The check, a donation from St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County, was a blessing he said would allow him to leave the makeshift RV camp in Santa Rosa’s Northpoint Corporate Center without fear of having his “home” towed away.
“I’m elated, I don’t have to drive around scared anymore,” said Toleson, a former caretaker at the Santa Rosa Air Center and KBBF radio station who has been homeless for about three years.
Toleson’s RV has been unregistered for about four years and he recently came to live at the RV encampment that’s cropped up on Apollo, Mercury and Challenger streets around the west Santa Rosa business park. Since the beginning of the year, a growing number of RVs, vans and cars have parked along the streets, forming the largest unsanctioned RV and vehicle encampment city officials have ever seen.
The encampment, which also includes several tents pitched on streets, has created numerous problems for local business and property owners, including issues stemming from the lack of essential facilities for residents, such as toilets and garbage receptacles.
Securing valid registration for vehicles may help some residents move on.
The checks are made out to the DMV, smog and repair shops. Toleson was eager to take his check to the DMV.
“I don’t feel trapped anymore,” he said. “I can drive and go somewhere else because they don’t want us here and I don’t blame them.”
Toleson is one of up to 40 people who have asked St. Vincent de Paul to help them pay for such things as vehicle registration, auto insurance, smog tests and various repairs that would allow them to relocate. St. Vincent de Paul launched its registration assistance program in August, and has been trying to help as many applicants as possible.
It’s a slow process, said Michael Nesta, St. Vincent de Paul’s disaster relief case manager. By the end of the week, the program will have spent more than $8,500 helping up to eight people get their vehicles registered, smogged and repaired, he said.
St. Vincent de Paul’s work at the encampment is occurring in tandem with city efforts to provide housing options to those living in RVs and vehicles, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, which is heading the outreach effort at the encampment. At the moment, the most likely option is a bed in a temporary shelter, she said.
Holmes said that since the outreach effort began 1½ months ago, they’ve contacted about 115 encampment residents. The majority would like to live in a legal RV park, she said, but there are a number of barriers that make that difficult, including current vehicle registration.
Many others would like to stay in permanent homeless housing facilities such as the Palms Inn in Santa Rosa, but there are currently no openings there, Holmes said.
City housing and police officials have set a goal of mid-September to clear the business park encampment, but it’s unlikely that deadline will be met.
Police have been conducting enforcement in recent weeks, arresting people on warrants and those who have been repeatedly cited for camping violations and other infractions.