By Dante Benedetti, staff writer
By Sam Leitch, copy editor
By Kyle Wu, business manager
The county, in conjunction with the City of Santa Rosa, has begun relocating the 60 people in the homeless encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail to the Los Guilicos site across from the Oakmont senior community.
So far, 60 residents have been assigned to a set of 60 temporary housing units on the Los Guilicos site, adjacent to the former juvenile correctional facility. According to Santa Rosa City Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, this site was chosen from 240 potential sites, and was evaluated to be the best one.
Los Guilicos is designed to only be a temporary location. According to County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, the city plans to relocate the residents to another site by April 30 in order to make room for other residents. The county is currently investigating two other potential permanent structures. These structures are multi-unit facilities in Santa Rosa and Cotati and are expected to be open in the next several weeks.
Even though the location is only temporary, many Oakmont residents have voiced concerns about the proximity of the Los Guilicos site, citing concerns for safety.
Oakmont resident Tom Fiori said that he “didn’t want [the homeless] out here by us” for fears of panhandling or break-ins. However, after he heard of the regulations they had to agree to he felt more comfortable with the decision, saying that it “gives the homeless who want it a chance to get back on their feet.”
In addition, Schwedhelm has stated that officers will be provided to increase the security of the Oakmont community.
An eight-foot security fence has also be installed around the Los Guilicos site, along with strict curfew regulations. According to The Press Democrat, St. Vincent de Paul will also spend $300,000 to provide 24-hour security at Oakmont.
“I am perfectly confident in the ability of St. Vincent de Paul,” said Schwedhelm.
Schwedhelm said the primary difficulty barring solutions for this encampment stems from a “conflict of jurisdiction.” Although the encampment is located in Santa Rosa, the Joe Rodota Trail is technically county property and the responsibility of the regional parks.
Despite the initial difficulties, the encampment was cleared out on Jan. 31, a deadline determined by Iain de Jong, an expert on both housing and homelessness hired by the City of Santa Rosa. It was imperative to clear out the encampment because it had been deemed “uninhabitable.” The trail is currently being cleared of the debris that the homeless left behind, and the sanitation process is expected to keep the trail closed for several more weeks.
Because of the problems with the encampment, the county is legally mandated to offer housing services to the residents. Although the residents are not obligated to accept, they have to relocate to avoid violating county ordinances.
“Campers who violate county ordinances will be subject to arrest,” said Schwedhelm.
Many of the campers who have refused county services have moved on to other homeless encampments.
There are other potential solutions to the relocation of the homeless. Schwedhelm stated that the city has the option of relocating residents to the Sam Jones shelter, a shelter in Santa Rosa, and even using hotel vouchers to places such as the Palms Inn. Diversion officers will also be provided by the city to reconnect campers with their families.
According to County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, another difficulty is the lack of shelter beds for all homeless campers. The county has been authorized to use $11.6 million in emergency funding to alleviate this shortage. Other solutions, such as “outdoor shelter models,” are also being investigated in order to “expand the housing capacity.”