Santa Rosa plans to clear homeless camps from trail, downtown underpass

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Homeless encampments on a central Santa Rosa trail and underneath a downtown highway overpass are the latest to find themselves in the city’s sights, with plans in motion to clear out residents in those problem areas by the end of the month.

Enforcement actions against illegal campers living along the Prince Memorial Greenway and Sixth Street underneath the Highway 101 overpass are set to be the latest in an extended city effort to disband higher-density homeless dwellings while also offering outreach and shelter to people living on the streets.

This month’s upcoming planned crackdown is part of an evolving program that began in 2017 with the clear-out of the city-owned slopes south of Farmers Lane known as Homeless Hill.

Campers on the Greenway and within the banks of Santa Rosa Creek pose problems that can run afoul of state standards meant to safeguard the cleanliness of public waterways, said Kelli Kuykendall, the city’s housing and community services manager. That’s on top of concerns about blocking access to public pathways, an issue on both the Greenway and at the highway overpass.

“People can hang out on the Greenway, but it becomes an issue when people are blocking the walkway,” Kuykendall said.

The city will host a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall to share details about its plans with people living or working in the two areas, as well as anybody else who is interested.

After that meeting, officials will start to notify homeless people living in the areas that they will need to leave in the coming weeks. If necessary, police will clear those spaces of people after they have been notified. The city’s goal is to have the two areas clear of overnight campers and large groups blocking the public right of way by the end of July.

“They’re always working on these areas, but we’ve been having more issues along the Greenway and at the Morgan Street underpass,” Kuykendall said.

Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, the city’s main homeless services provider, with offices near the Sixth Street underpass, will attend the informational meeting Monday. Catholic Charities operates the county’s largest homeless shelter, Sam Jones Hall, and also operates a city-funded street outreach team that will be working alongside the city at the two sites in the weeks ahead, said Jennielynn Holmes, chief program officer for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa.

“Creative problem-solving with every individual so they don’t just get moved to some other location across the city” will be Catholic Charities’ focus during the weeks ahead, Holmes said, adding that three people from the two targeted areas already have been placed into shelter.

Other homeless advocates would prefer the city abandon its enforcement plans.

“We strongly oppose these sweeps,” said Adrienne Lauby with the Homeless Action advocacy group. “We have seen them happen for over a year, and they have been nothing but destructive. ... When you do these sweeps it breaks apart the fabric of people’s communities.”

Lauby reiterated Homeless Action’s request that Santa Rosa provide sanctioned places where homeless people can find refuge and services. The group recently received $450,000 in funding to create an RV park and a space for tiny homes, and Lauby said Homeless Action is continuing to seek secure locations for the projects.

The people who live along the trail and underneath the highway are among the roughly 1,800 homeless people in Santa Rosa, which accounts for 3 out of 5 Sonoma County’s 2,951 homeless residents, according to recently released homeless population estimates by the county’s Community Development Commission.

In addition to the crackdown on illegal camps, the city reiterated its goal to connect people with support services and permanent or temporary housing. A city press release from last week noted the effort would include “ongoing cleanups of the area to mitigate public health and safety concerns, enforcement to address criminal activity, and management of the area following relocation of individuals and resolution of the encampment to discourage reoccupation.”

Since the clearing of Homeless Hill in August 2017, city officials and police have turned their attention to the homeless communities that have sprung up in Doyle Community Park, beneath Highway 101 and at the Corporate Center Parkway business park in southwest Santa Rosa.

Discussions are still ongoing to settle a lawsuit filed last year by Homeless Action against the city, Sonoma County and the county Community Development Commission to try to block a sweep of a homeless encampment in Roseland near the Joe Rodota Trail.

Lauby declined to comment on the case or the settlement negotiations. Kuykendall would not comment beyond saying the lawsuit was “making us cross all of our t’s and dot all of our i’s.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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