I will fight any attempt to make the Los Guilicos emergency shelter permanent.
By Susan Gorin, First District Supervisor
Sonoma County’s homeless emergency is one of the most contentious and difficult challenges we’ve faced. That said, along with fear and concern, there is also compassion and advocacy. There’s a lot of information and misinformation I’d like to try and sort through. Despite the fact that we may be “seeing” more homeless, data shows homeless numbers have actually decreased over the years. Our last homeless count in 2019 demonstrated more than 85 percent of our homeless population was originally from Sonoma County.
The investments made by the County and cities over the years have made a difference. The Home Sonoma County Leadership Council has allocated close to $20m in homeless outreach services, expansions of shelters, and permanent supportive housing and emergency winter shelters.
Our next homeless count takes place on February 28. Since tabulating the data and releasing it takes a few months, we can expect to see a report out sometime in late spring. I don’t pretend to know what this data will look like, but I am glad we will have current information and be able to have discussions based on facts not rumors.
I was horrified to read about the sexual assault of a young woman on the Sonoma Bike Path. This is completely unacceptable, and should never happen, let alone in the middle of a town like Sonoma. My heart goes out to this survivor who had the strength to fight back and fortitude to report the assault and identify her assailant. Thank you, Police Chief Rodriguez, for the quick action that led to the perpetrator’s arrest.
The assailant is reported to be a homeless Sonoma man who had been receiving daytime services at Sonoma’s only homeless services facility – the Haven run by Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) – until he was refused services due to his behavior. He was also staying at the winter shelter run by SOS at Sonoma Alliance Church.
It has been reported that the winter shelter is required by the County to let everyone in; SOS cannot be selective in who they take in. I want to be clear that this is not a county requirement. Rather, it is a requirement of our state and federal partners called Housing First.
Under Housing First, if a person has – health problems, addiction, mental health struggles – these are impossible to address if they lack stable shelter. This approach is supported by data, and has been successful at transitioning homeless people into housing across the country, and even here in Sonoma County.
However, as with any one-size-fits-all program, there are challenges and deficiencies depending on jurisdiction. The County depends on state and federal monies that require Housing First to fund organizations like Sonoma Overnight Support, and other providers. Though local jurisdictions like the County and the City of Sonoma can fund bits and pieces of services like this without relying on state and federal money, we don’t have the budgets for all services that are needed. I see real challenges with the way state and federal funding is allocated through Housing First to our local providers and am committed to having some tough conversations with our state and federal legislators in an attempt to remedy this.
At the January 14 meeting, the County Board of Supervisors recognized that expanding homeless encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail had become a health and public safety crisis; we firmly agreed to close the trail and refer the campers to beds at shelters, permanent supportive housing, and the new temporary Emergency Outdoor Shelter. Out of all the possible sites in central Santa Rosa, the board selected Los Guilicos (in a 4-1 vote) as the site for a 60-unit outdoor shelter. I strongly dissented as the site is inadequately served by public transportation, has no services near the site, and Highway 12 is virtually impossible to navigate on foot or by bicycle.
St. Vincent de Paul, the operator hired to run what is now called Los Guilicos Village, has tried to work with these deficiencies. They do not allow residents to leave on foot or bicycle. Residents are required to wait for designated shuttles to bring them into the city to access groceries, doctors, jobs, and any other services. Workers are providing 24-hour security, and prohibiting fires, and drug or alcohol use on site.
I am grateful that the pallet shelter units are lighted, heated, and weatherproofed and that 60 people previously living in horrible conditions in makeshift tents and tarps are now safe and warm, sometimes for the first time in years. The people placed at Los Guilicos Village were the most vulnerable and ready to transition into housing (domestic abuse victims, veterans, older adults, and those with chronic health issues). And thank you to so many in the community, who have stepped forward to volunteer to prepare meals and provide clothing and necessities.
There are three points I want to make abundantly clear.
The only way we’re going to get through the urgent problem of people living without shelter is together. This is not only about Santa Rosa or Sonoma. Homelessness exists throughout the county, and the nation.
District 1 has bravely stepped up to the plate to do its part. There need to be these kinds of solutions in other parts of the county as well.
And finally, Los Guilicos Village is a good, but temporary solution. I will fight any attempt to make this permanent or for it to exist much longer than originally proposed, as the residents are discouraged from even leaving the fenced-in area.
We need to bring services to all the populations in need, and I continue to advocate for equitable distribution of resources for the homeless. We are Sonoma Strong, and that doesn’t just mean we know how to survive and rebuild after a firestorm. It means having difficult conversations and doing the hard work to get to a solution to the homelessness issue.