After Santa Rosa shut down homeless encampments in downtown Highway 101 underpasses last week, numerous people who lived there have migrated to the site of a two-year old tent village on a publicly owned lot in Roseland, frustrating Sonoma County officials in charge of the property and adding another layer of complexity to the region’s longstanding housing crisis.
The collection of tents behind the Dollar Tree store on Sebastopol Road appears to have swollen to at least 75 tents, double its prior size. The growth has surprised city leaders who thought more people would move from the underpasses into shelter beds or other housing options.
The situation also has inflamed political tensions — the property is owned by the county, but the neighborhood was just annexed into Santa Rosa city limits — and escalated debate about whether local officials should allow encampments as a temporary solution to the lack of affordable homes in the area.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents Roseland, called the shift of homeless residents into the area a “new twist on an old problem” and lamented that it occurred so quickly after the neighborhood’s annexation.
“I believe that the City Council and the city of Santa Rosa acted with the best of intentions, but the result of their policy decision is that the homeless problem was shifted from a more wealthy area into a much poorer area,” she said hours after visiting the encampment Tuesday. “It was shifted from downtown, where you’ve got a lot of businesspeople driving to work there every day, into the most socioeconomically disadvantaged ZIP code in the county … It’s a very vulnerable community, and it’s very frustrating to see social problems essentially being shifted in that direction.”
Originally set up under the name Camp Michela in honor of a slain homeless woman, Michela Wooldridge, the encampment is now known as Remembrance Village, according to Adrienne Lauby of the activist group Homeless Action. Lauby and other activists helped homeless people move from the underpasses to the Roseland encampment site, but they didn’t choose the spot themselves, she said.
Anthony “New York” Rodriguez, who leads the tent village’s camp council, said he invited the newcomers to set up on the other side of the fence that shields the original encampment from public view.
“It’s like this: I’m homeless myself. Who am I to tell them you can’t put a tent on the other side of the wall, the fence?” Rodriguez, 61, said during an interview Wednesday morning. “We’re all in the same boat and fighting the same battle — homeless. And it’s like, if we can do it, we might as well do it all together.”
But the swollen camp presents numerous public health and logistical concerns that could vex county and city officials who were already struggling to house chronically homeless people before October’s fires, which destroyed about 5 percent of the city’s housing stock.
Hopkins cited worries about unsanitary living conditions, particularly a lack of sufficient bathroom and showering options at the Roseland site, as well as the broader impacts on Roseland. She said she hoped the tent village’s sudden growth could be addressed somehow by a new joint committee of supervisors and Santa Rosa City Council members. The committee was formed as part of an effort from the two governments to collaborate in improving services to the area’s homeless population, estimated at roughly 2,800, equivalent to a rate of homelessness about three times the national average.