4 Los Guilicos shelter units burned, 2 damaged

All evacuated safely but Oakmont-area homeless ‘village’ won’t be reoccupied until deemed safe.|

As fire was cresting Hood Mountain and the announcement came to evacuate on Sept. 27, the residents and staff of the Los Guilicos homeless shelter in eastern Santa Rosa were ready.

“We had a pre-existing plan and had actually practiced in the summertime,” said Jack Tibbetts.

Tibbetts is the executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, which manages the shelter, and he is a Santa Rosa city councilmember.

Of the 60 shelter units at the camp located in eastern Santa Rosa across from Oakmont, all but two were occupied. Four are destroyed and the two that bookended the four “experienced quite a bit of damage” and may be a total loss, too, Tibbetts said.

Were it not for a couple of Oakmont residents, that practiced plan may not have existed, Tibbetts said.

In May when the shelter’s end date was extended to Aug. 1, Steve Dieterle, a member of the Oakmont advisory council, asked Tibbetts, “What’s your plan for a fire?”

“The county will come get us,” Tibbetts told him.

But Dieterle persuaded Tibbetts that they needed to be self-sufficient in the event the county couldn’t get buses out there to transport the residents to safety.

Another Oakmont resident, Sonia Taylor, was adamant that the camp needed to have a bus or shuttle at the site in case of an emergency.

“She said, ‘If you don’t I’m going to beat you up,’ or something to that effect,” Tibbetts said with a chuckle. He said he’s grateful to them, the shelter staff and the shelter residents, for working together to create, practice and execute the plan.

“Sure enough, we needed it,” he said, because when the evacuation order alerts sounded the night of Sept. 27, the county did not come with buses. “We got out in one fell swoop, in about an hour.”

The plan included having two shuttles and putting residents in cars and taking them to the Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Rosa, the location they figured would be an evacuation shelter. They did a head count as they were evacuating the shelter, a threatening red glow in the hills behind them. The residents stayed and “pulled their weight” in a smooth and orderly evacuation, Tibbetts said.

After arriving at the Vets building, the homeless shelter residents saw more and more people arriving, and some of them became uncomfortable that coronavirus may have been lurking among the strangers. A few of the homeless “went and did their own thing,” Tibbetts said, which he said is their prerogative.

“We were supposed to leave them there... and they would be on their own,” said Tibbetts of the plan, but he and his team wanted to make sure everyone was going to be OK and came up with other options.

The non-congregate shelter (NCS) in the D Lot at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds was one option, and where Tibbetts said they would do their best to provide the basics, maybe a cot and some food to start. They could stay at the Vets building, or “you’re free adults” they were told, they can do as they choose, he said.

A group of them went to the NCS, the most vulnerable given vacant trailers in which to sleep, and some stayed at the Vets building.

Since then some of the homeless have moved to Alliance Redwoods in Guerneville, and others to another NCS in Healdsburg, Tibbetts said.

Sonoma County officials are already working on reopening and reoccupying Los Guilicos Village, which includes a thorough cleaning and safety checks as well as replacing the Pallet brand shelter units. It’s going to take two to three weeks, he thinks, before anyone will move back in.

Los Guillicos Village was erected in late January after an encampment on Santa Rosa’s Joe Rodota Trail was deemed a safety hazard and the homeless who were living there were forced to leave. The Village is on the eastern-most edge of Santa Rosa, an area some critics argued was too far from the necessary services, such as health and mental health services that some homeless require.

In a public meeting in January with neighbors held in Oakmont’s Berger Center when the shelter was proposed, Sonoma County officials promised neighbors to the Pythian Road shelter that it was temporary, and would be dismantled after April 30.

But that date was extended to Aug. 1, and Tibbetts said now the shelter is labeled “time uncertain” for closure.

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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