Sonoma Valley's homeless facing a future without overnight shelter
Kathy King is frustrated. The executive director of Sonoma Overnight Support, the nonprofit which operates the Haven homeless shelter on First Street West, feels that the Sonoma Valley population she serves is last in line for county services.
'At the end of the month the grant from the county CDC (Community Development Commission) will stop,' said King. 'I have been twice a week for the last month on conference calls with shelter providers of the county, trying find out if they're going to extend winter shelter funding through May.'
Though the Winter Shelter program, which takes place at the Sonoma Alliance Church on Watmaugh Road, usually runs until the end of March, it was given a 30-day extension through April, but its future beyond that point is uncertain. Currently eight to 12 people per night are able to stay at the overnight shelter, down from the usual 15, to help provide social distancing at the church.
The county allocated $95,000 for four months of the winter shelter program, December through March, but even though the program was extended, so far the CDC has not committed to additional funding. The program costs about $30,000 a month, said King, leaving a significant shortfall.
'We got nothing. The county's not helping us, at all,' she said.
Update: Following publication of this article, Supervisor Susan Gorin said that "we moved forward in authorizing $60,000 from our Tourism Impact Funds for SOS," an allocation that will be taken up at the Tuesday, April 28, Board of Supervisors meeting.
In the current coronavirus crisis, King is also concerned about the many homeless who are in the high-risk category of over 65 years, or with compromised immune systems. The county's 2019 homeless count shows that 19 percent of the county's 2,951 homeless are 55 or older, though further breakdown by age is not available.
At the Los Guilicos homeless village near Oakmont, some 60 people remain in a shelter-at-home posture and under close observation, according to Rohish Lal, spokesman for the county Department of Health. 'No outsiders and, because of COVID-19, now no volunteers are allowed,' Lal told the Index-Tribune. 'Additionally, we have increased education around how disease is spread and told residents to refrain from sharing cups and cigarettes.'
King said she has asked multiple times if any Sonoma Valley homeless can be placed at Los Guilicos, where 64-square-foot temporary shelters were erected in March. But the county has made that facility available exclusively to former campers along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa which, at one time, had a homeless population of over 250.
Both at Los Guilicos and at the Haven, there has been extensive and regular testing for coronavirus, but so far there have been no positive results in the homeless population. Spot testing at other homeless shelters such as the Catholic Charities-run Sam Jones Hall in Santa Rosa has also not produced any evidence of coronavirus infection.
Good news for the Haven and its ability to help the area's homeless arrived with the recent installation of a portable ADA-approved shower, at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building on April 11, for the use of Haven day clients. The shower is open 9 a.m. to noon, and has proven to be popular as well as helpful, having provided up to 18 showers on one day, and a total of more than 100 showers since it opened. The facility is thoroughly cleaned following each client's use.
Those using the showers are each provided with a hygiene kit of soap, shampoo, conditioner, razor and two towels. If necessary, they can also get clean socks, clean underwear and a change of clothing, said King.
Sonoma Overnight Support had offered overnight sheltering at its 10-bed Haven shelter at 151 First St. E. up until 2018 when, to stay in compliance with county policy, converted to day services only. SOS continues to purchase and distribute food that is prepared from seven local kitchens, including from one of the newest restaurants in the Valley, Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery at the location of the former Schellville Grill. Other participating kitchens include Picazo Cafe, El Coyote, Basque Boulangerie, Reel & Brand, Broadway Market and the Teen Center. But the meals are not free – they now run $10 each.
SOS has received recent grants from the Sonoma Community Center for $25,000 and from the Sonoma County Vintners for $15,000. 'I'm using the money for food,' said King.
Meanwhile the City of Sonoma's annual allocation of $30,000 has not increased in seven years, and SOS cannot hold its usual spring Mothers' Day Luncheon fundraiser, which usually brings in about $50,000, due to health restrictions on gatherings.
King and the SOS board of directors hope their current fiscal straits, along with the new shower facility, will incentivize support from donors and volunteers. 'Thank God we have such wonderful volunteers and donors that are sending us money unsolicited, ranging from $15 to $5,000,' said King.
But no matter how generous they are, it will be difficult to match the $95,000 support that SOS received from CDC for the Winter Shelter program, perhaps now in its final week of extended service — at which point indoor shelter for Sonoma Valley's homeless will effectively disappear.
'It's been a process but we're trying to keep everybody safe and fed and clean, even if they do not have a place to shelter,' King said.
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