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Sonoma Overnight Support gives out 50,000th meal this year

On Wednesday, Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) celebrated at Springs Community Hall giving away its 50,000th meal in 2021 to food-insecure Sonoma Valley residents, the most meals in a single year since the organization was formed.

The celebration is also a sign of how homelessness has grown exponentially in recent years in Sonoma Valley, which stems from a lack of affordable housing and an economy affected by the pandemic, Kathy King, the executive director of SOS, said.

“Homelessness has increased, of course, because of the pandemic; because of housing and the high cost of rent and the lack of housing,” King said. “Then there's the scary part: There’s that over-65 (population) who are the chronically homeless.”

The 50,000th meal was given to Kathy Ostram, a Sonoma Valley resident in her early 70s who used to attend Sonoma Valley High School. Ostram’s income came from her late husband’s military retired pay and odd jobs that she would take on from friends in the neighborhood, she said. But the pandemic brought an end to those jobs and Ostram began relying on Sonoma Overnight Support to make ends meet.

“During the pandemic, the bottom fell out of everything,” Ostram said.

Housing insecurity among older people started to grow in recent years, according to the last Point-In-Time Count, which tracks homelessness in Sonoma County, said Michael Gause, the county’s ending homelessness manager. The plight of people in that age group grew worse after the Tubbs Fire in 2017, he said, which burned over 5,000 homes.

“Certainly in my career here, I'd never had the amount of requests coming from folks in that age range who were suddenly homeless or who had just become homeless,” Gause said about the aftermath of the fires.

The number of homeless individuals began to fall, the data collected by the Point-In-Time Count in January 2020 showed. But another natural disaster in the shape of a pandemic sent shock waves through society in March 2020, and continues to impact the lives of Sonoma Valley residents. Point-In-Time’s survey was not carried out this year due to the pandemic, Gause said. The last PIT estimate reported 88 homeless people living in Sonoma Valley.

SOS now serves more than 1,000 meals per week to residents of Sonoma Valley. And it has expanded services to include delivery for elderly food-insecure residents who don’t have the transportation to go to SOS’s lunch, which is held at the Springs Community Hall each day.

“We think that this number is going to increase,” King said. “People are hungry all year round. We need to keep doing what we're doing and we're grateful for all the contributions. But (the need) doesn't go away after New Year's.”

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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