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Volunteers work on sheltering homeless Sonomans

In Sonoma, the homeless aren’t as visible as in other cities.

Seldom can someone be found panhandling in front of local grocery stores or on the Plaza square. We almost never see people sleeping on sidewalks, huddled in doorways.

But tucked on side streets, under bridges, camped out in parking lots or crammed with seven others in a tiny apartment, the homeless population is growing in Sonoma, just as it is in the rest of the country.

Elizabeth Kemp, a local Sonoma Overnight Shelter volunteer and one of the first members of the free, warm-burrito-providing Brown Baggers, has been working to help Sonoma’s homeless for more than 30 years. In the last 10 years, she says, the homeless population in the Valley has increased with the recession and an increasingly disproportionate low-wage to high-living-cost ratio. Kemp helps with Sonoma County’s annual homeless count, and in the last year counted more than 200 homeless people – though she says accurate homeless numbers are difficult to determine. But, at least 200 homeless people live in the Valley permanently. Most live here and work here, she says.

Kemp explains that the term “homeless” is broad and an overgeneralization, citing people who live on a different friend’s couch each week, or out of their cars, as technically homeless but are more accurately defined as “inadequately sheltered.” The “unsheltered” people, on the other hand, camp out in empty fields, on less travelled streets or under bridges.


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