Rohnert Park to spend up to $450,000 more on new homeless initiatives
Rohnert Park has advanced some of the county’s most progressive efforts to help combat rising homelessness, including looking to set up safe overnight parking for those living in their cars and a landlord incentive program aimed at helping people transition into housing.
The City Council met last week to consider a handful of additional services to help individuals who, in many cases, are sleeping on sidewalks, in their cars and beneath underpasses find their way back into permanent housing.
A majority of the five-member council directed city employees Tuesday to begin developing plans to spend as much as $450,000 more this year on new and expanded programs for the homeless.
“We’re talking about people living outside in the street. Somebody tell me why is this OK?” Mayor Gina Belforte said. “We have a crisis. That means we need immediate action now. We should do better, and we can do better.”
More than $300,000 will go toward cleaning up homeless encampments, including problem sites near the city’s waterways. The city will boost patrols, as well as increase vegetation management. It also will set aside $50,000 of that money to tow away vehicles abandoned around the city.
Recreational vehicles, which have sprung up in neighborhoods and in private and city-owned parking lots, can cost up to $2,000 each to remove.
City employees recommended the initiatives to address a growing number of complaints from residents who want to see more done for the expanding homeless population in south county.
From 2018 to 2019, the combined homeless population in Rohnert Park and its neighboring Cotati jumped 24%, up to 173 people.
Annual homeless often counts are viewed as imprecise, but are a consistent year-to-year measure on how populations in the county are rising or falling. Santa Rosa has the county’s largest homeless population with about 1,800 people.
“It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s really true that homelessness is an incredibly complex issue to try and address,” Don Schwartz, Rohnert Park’s assistant city manager, told the council. “This is really a communitywide, really a nationwide problem, but we’re doing what we can. These are funds we really think we have to spend for protection of health and safety in Rohnert Park, which is city government’s top priority.”
Santa Rosa is spending about $3 million this year — 1.7% of its $179 million general fund budget — on homeless services.
Rohnert Park this year already had committed to spend $250,000 on rapid rehousing services through the nonprofit COTS (Committee on the Shelterless), plus keep another $75,000 in reserve for future outreach needs. The new funding means the city will spend up to 2% of this fiscal year’s $40 million general fund on homeless services.
Among the new proposed funds, $80,000 will go toward accessing a dozen more temporary beds through next summer at a shelter run by COTS.
The shelter in Petaluma currently has a capacity for 100 individuals, and the new beds will specifically be designated for Rohnert Park residents.
The shelter will provide meals, showers and some case-management services. Individuals may stay up to 90 days, although the shelter will have some flexibility in extending the days on a case-by-case basis.