Sonoma is a lovely little town that attracts visitors from around the world. They come here to enjoy our fine weather, pleasant parks, excellent wine, good food, and friendly atmosphere. Residents enjoy the very same things, and these residents include the homeless.
It may be a surprise to many that 80 percent of Sonoma’s homeless are locals. They often have family living in the area, they’ve grown up here, and even have low-paying jobs. Some have had good jobs and homes of their own, but lost them when overcome by debt, loss, disabilities, problems of aging, or other personal challenges. Roughly 65 percent of Sonoma’s homeless are over 50 years old and a few are in their seventies.
The City of Sonoma, together with the County, provides funding to support The Haven, which used to offer long-term shelter, especially for families. Since June the Haven has discontinued providing beds; however, the Haven provides food from 9 a.m. to 1p.m., showers, and a washer and dryer. During the winter, overnight beds are provided at a local church. Homelessness is growing in California, and throughout the country; San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have all seen dramatic increases in the homeless population. By comparison, the City of Sonoma has a modest challenge with homelessness.
Services to the homeless always involve support, whether it’s food, clothing for a job interview, or help getting medical treatment. With adequate services, some homeless people can reestablish themselves in jobs and housing. Many of the homeless, however, are over 60, with major health problems. If they have been without work or housing for many years, their needs are for security and stability.
Almost everyone reacts to the homeless, from fear or disgust to anger, compassion, and feeling helpless. The problem will be with us for the foreseeable future, not just here, but worldwide. How best can we respond?
Being homeless is not a crime, and our local police debunk the myth that crime and the homeless go together. The homeless population is growing but there is no increase in crime attributable to the homeless. Law enforcement can enforce laws that apply to everyone – if a homeless person is camping in a local park, which is against the law, they can be required to move. But law enforcement has limited options.
The Haven and SOS’s (Sonoma Overnight Support) program is helping. The services currently offered have increased now to include on-site resource counselors. A safe, overnight parking program for those living in their cars is being developed by the Haven staff and board with the City and the Police Department. People who do not have enough food, a safe and warm place to sleep, and other basics, suffer more and create more havoc in the community. Treating the homeless with compassion, respect, and kindness can be the beginning of a different kind of life for people. For more information on local programs and to report problems, contact SOS Executive Director Kathy King, or Volunteer Coordinator Dan Kahn.
What’s needed most immediately in Sonoma are food donations, since the number of meals needed has been increasing. In the long term, establishing a year-round shelter is essential, and we urge the City and County to allocate resources to create one. To reduce the number of people living in their cars or in the bushes requires providing an alternative.
— Sun Editorial Board