Santa Rosa police disband reclaimed homeless camp in Roseland

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Police and Sonoma County officials on Tuesday stopped a short-lived attempt to reclaim a gravel lot behind the Dollar Tree store in Roseland by some of the scores of homeless people forced to move from place to place since their eviction from a long-term encampment there last spring.

Under the watchful eye of Santa Rosa police officers, about 25 people packed up tents and other belongings, just as rain arrived in the region for what were expected to be several stormy days this week.

Few of those displaced by Tuesday’s action knew where they were headed next, though at least seven accepted placement at local shelters, according to Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa.

A handful simply relocated, at least temporarily, to the front of the Sebastopol Road store and hunkered down beneath an overhang as the rainfall strengthened.

“This is our everyday life,” Rena Patterson said as she prepared to move down the Joe Rodota Trail, a friend’s white chihuahua snuggled inside the zippered front of her hooded jacket. “Every time I get somewhere, I gotta pack up and go again.”

The expulsion of homeless individuals from an area once occupied by a sprawling community known variously as Camp Michela, Last Chance Village and Remembrance Village is the latest in a series of confrontations between public officials and congregations of homeless individuals around the city of Santa Rosa over the past year or so, as groups ejected from one place resettled elsewhere only to be forced to move on.

Housing officials and shelter providers have worked hard to enhance availability of rooms for those who have no permanent homes, but it is a slow, costly process. There are not enough beds, and many in need find the options are not tailored sufficiently to meet their needs and get them off the streets.

The result is that hundreds of people still live outdoors, without a legal, safe place to camp. When they do gather somewhere, the sheer numbers often become overwhelming, augmented by health and safety issues, including lack of sanitation.

The Dollar Tree encampment was still small and less than two days old. Some of its members said they arrived Sunday after CHP officers on Saturday night ordered them out of their encampment of several weeks under Highway 12. A few more people arrived Monday.

They pitched their tents against the north side of the concrete building and moved segments of chain-link fence that had surrounded the empty land — slated for affordable housing development — closer to their encampment.

Steve Singleton, who emerged as a community leader in the waning days of Camp Michela last winter and spring, said Tuesday that he thought returning there offered the possibility of a few weeks of peace and quiet while local officials resolve how to allocate an estimated $12 million in one-time state homeless emergency funds anticipated by the county.

Singleton, who is in his 50s, said those experiencing homelessness need to be able to stay somewhere day to day just to function. They otherwise spend their entire day packing up, storing their things, figuring out where to sleep at night and otherwise tending to immediate needs, making it impossible to work or otherwise build a life.

“You can’t function by moving every day, every day, every day,” Singleton said. “You can’t be productive.”

But he also said that the land was just sitting there, unused, even though the county had taken action to move the homeless off of it after two years because they were preparing to begin construction of a 175-unit apartment complex. Officials pledged to find adequate housing for those who were displaced in the process.

“Adequate housing means adequate housing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean going to Sam Jones Hall, where they have 250 people.”

Benjamin Wickham, affordable housing director for the county’s Community Development Commission, said the county is still awaiting approval of its subdivision map and will begin site work the moment it is approved. He said groundwater monitoring on the property, once a dry-cleaner site, is ongoing, as is development of a remediation plan.

“It’s hard for people to see that things are happening, and these processes are going on,” he said.

Anita LaFollette was among several people who railed against Santa Rosa’s crackdown at the City Council meeting on Tuesday night. “I feel like crying,” she said in an interview. “To treat human beings like that…”

Kathleen Finigan, one of several advocates with Homeless Action who monitored events Tuesday, said seeing the camp dismantled in the rain “broke my heart.”

“It’s inexcusable that all these human beings, through no fault of their own, are being forced to live this way, so I really feel disheartened by this,” she said. “Why did they have to do this today, in the rain? Why couldn’t they wait a couple of days?”

The Rodota Trail to the north of the encampment was closed to the public Tuesday between Dutton and Roseland avenues to prevent people from moving onto the trail and setting up camp, a problem that led to public safety, health and sanitation issues after officials cleared out the Dollar Tree area last spring.

Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker said he was unaware of similar issues so far this week and said he hoped the trail could be reopened in a day or two.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the closure of the Joe Rodota Trail.

Staff Writer Will Schmitt contributed reporting.

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