Leaders of Sonoma County’s new anti-homelessness effort have approved policies for awarding roughly $9.3 million, setting in motion the next stage of the group’s work: evaluating outside proposals to improve shelters, run rehousing programs and provide outreach for people living on the street.
Proposals will be accepted by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission starting Tuesday through 5 p.m. Feb. 8. A top county official told leaders of Home Sonoma County, the county’s recently formed comprehensive homeless assistance entity, that a deluge of applications would be on its way soon, with no easy answer for how best to allocate resources.
“We know there’s going to be a robust number of applications and proposals, and I think you’re going to have some tough decisions to make,” said Margaret Van Vliet, executive director of the Community Development Commission.
Home Sonoma County’s leadership council — a nine-member board comprised of five local elected officials and four community representatives — spent hours devising a framework for the funding award. The group is expected to make its final recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in March.
The leaders’ approval of funding priorities Friday was necessary for county officials to notify service providers that millions of dollars will be available for programs.
“They have allowed us to open the door,” Van Vliet said.
However, the leaders have discretion over project recommendations and could agree to exempt proposals from certain priorities, Van Vliet said.
The leadership council also discussed how Home Sonoma County could spread funding and projects among jurisdictions, from Santa Rosa to pockets of unincorporated west county.
The largest share of Sonoma County’s homeless population lives in Santa Rosa, homeless counts have shown. Accordingly, county officials who drew up the initial blueprint for the leadership council figured that much of the spending would be in Santa Rosa.
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and Rohnert Park Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz, both of whom worried their areas could be overlooked, spurred extended discussion on geographic equity for homelessness projects. Schwartz suggested numerous tweaks to the funding priorities, including changes to a description of outreach efforts to avoid “seemingly biasing it to larger jurisdictions.”
Hopkins, whose district includes most of the west county, was worried that unincorporated areas with large homeless populations could be left out in the cold. She said the initial funding priorities could disadvantage the lower Russian River area, which she said had a much higher concentration of homeless people and a greater need for services than small municipalities such as Sebastopol.
“I’m just concerned that we’re going to be left behind,” Hopkins said.
County officials indicated they would amend the funding priorities to ensure that proposals for unincorporated areas would not be precluded. The final draft of the funding priorities is expected to be released Tuesday.
Most of the available funds will come from a $12.1 million state emergency homelessness grant that will be disbursed over two years.
Federal and state grants and program spending will be combined with local and private dollars to make up the rest.
The next meeting of the leadership council for Home Sonoma County is set for late February.
Application period for $9.3 million in homeless programs
Jan. 8 - Feb. 8
Home Sonoma County’s leadership council:
Tom Schwedhelm, mayor, Santa Rosa (chairman)
Mark Krug, business development manager, Burbank Housing (vice chairman)
Julie Combs, council member, Santa Rosa
Susan Gorin, supervisor, Sonoma County
Lynda Hopkins, supervisor, Sonoma County
Gabe Kearney, council member, Petaluma
David Kuskie, peer support specialist, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Rebekah Sammet, formerly homeless person
Don Schwartz, assistant city manager