Health providers donate $1 million each to Catholic Charities’ Santa Rosa health and homeless campus

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Catholic Charities, Sonoma County’s leading provider of homeless services, is advancing its ambitious plans to build a health and housing campus in downtown Santa Rosa and two of the area’s largest health care providers, St. Joseph Health and Kaiser Permanente, have each donated $1 million to the effort.

Called Caritas Village, the project is slated to include a 128-unit affordable housing complex, a family emergency shelter, a childcare center, a drop-in site for homeless services and possibly a health clinic. Set for completion by 2022, the campus managed by Catholic Charities would replace the organization’s family emergency shelter and homeless services center on Morgan and A streets, which serves 2,000 people a year.

The village has been the longtime vision of dozens of people working in the health field and those who take care of the local homeless population, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa.

“Understanding how we solve homelessness means we need to understand the health aspect,” said Holmes, who has worked locally assisting homeless people for over 10 years.

It will cost $90 million to complete the village, and that money will come from public grants, private donations and tax credits, Holmes said. Nonprofit Burbank Housing is a partner in the project.

The $1 million donations from St. Joseph Health and Kaiser Permanente were a welcome surprise to Holmes and her team, she said, and serve as validation of their vision to take care of the county’s burgeoning homeless population. Last year, Sonoma County had one of the nation’s largest homeless populations among largely suburban communities, according to an annual homeless assessment report prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The donation by St. Joseph Health was its largest single gift to a local organization, said health investment manager Daniel Schurman.

“I cannot overemphasize how much of a need it is to have this project,” Schurman said. “We have a lot of confidence in them (Catholic Charities) since they have been leading this effort for quite a while.”

The North Bay health care provider has a long history of partnering with Catholic Charities on mobile dental and health clinics and placing social workers from the nonprofit in hospital emergency rooms, Schurman said.

Recently, St. Joseph Health recognized the need to tackle the related challenges of homelessness and chronic illness, rather than treating them separately.

Kaiser’s community benefit manager Alena Wall said the Caritas project’s focus on permanent and affordable housing aligns with Kaiser’s work to support homeless people. The health care system’s donation is specifically for the planned family emergency shelter on the Caritas campus, Wall said.

“Our conversations around donating to this project started late last year because we believe that the first step in living a healthy life is being housed,” Wall said.

During the past several years, health providers have been focusing on what is driving homeless people to seek treatment in hospitals, Schurman said.

“There are many social determinants that hospitals failed to look at for so long in regards to homelessness,” he said. “Education, immigration status and things like that can cause stress in people’s lives, which manifest in health issues, and that’s what we’re trying to address.”

For years, Holmes has been discussing the effects of homeless on every aspect of society — from law enforcement and neighborhoods to affordable housing and health care. She noted the 2017 fires added to the county’s homeless population, estimated at more than 3,000 people at the beginning of this year.

Life expectancy of homeless individuals is well below the average adult life span, Holmes said, because common illnesses and minor injuries often are life threatening for those living on the street.

“A homeless person’s life expectancy is 40 years and they are dying prematurely because they don’t have the resources they need to survive,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com.

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