Sonoma's Plan For Emergency Shelter Faces Criticism

There was recently a fire in the sprawling homeless camp on the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa, raising safety fears among neighbors in early 2020.
Photo credit Jeffrey Schaub/KCBS Radio
By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

(KCBS Radio) - Sonoma County officials are moving forward with plans for a temporary shelter to house dozens of homeless people currently living in a large encampment that has overtaken a popular cycling trail. 

But critics say the shelter, which will space for a fraction of the camp's residents, will be close to some sensitive sites while being too far from services that homeless people may need. 

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to approve an outdoor shelter on the two-acre Los Guilicos site near the county’s Juvenile Hall and a senior living community. The new shelter will have room for 60 housing units, restrooms, showers and a county navigation center and will also provide meals, medical services and security.

“We felt it could be established rather rapidly,” says Caroline Judy, director of general services for the county about the new shelter. “It is a paved area, the size is appropriate for what we’re considering and utilities are available.”

More than 200 people now live in the camp along a portion of the Joe Rodota Trail that connects Santa Rosa to Sebastopol. It used to be a popular route for walkers, joggers and bike commuters but has drawn extensive complaints about garbage, human waste, drug use and even a rat infestation over the last several months.

County officials are trying to clear the camp by January 31 and have been under significant pressure from the community. Proposals for where to move the camp’s residents have also generated controversy.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, who is running for re-election in March and represents the Los Guilicos site, voted against the proposal and says she expects significant opposition from residents of the nearby Oakmont community. “We are being rushed,” she said.

Judy acknowledges the site has its shortcomings. "The proximity to the children’s shelter and the juvenile hall," she said. "It’s not very walkable to any services, grocery stores.”

"None of this is pretty and all of it is screwed up," said Supervisor David Rabbitt. But he ultimately supported the new shelter, saying it was the best option available.

County staffers proposed another site that could be up and running in a short amount of time, in the county’s administration center close to public transit and a shopping center. That site was ultimately rejected because of its proximity to a pre-school.

The new emergency shelter will be open for three months.

Reported by Bob Butler, written by Jessica Yi.