Sonoma County supervisors approve $11 million in emergency spending on Santa Rosa homeless encampment
Sonoma County supervisors on Monday approved a plan to address the county’s largest homeless encampment, agreeing to spend $11.63 million in an effort to chip away at the 200-plus-person trail camp that officials have for months labeled a public health emergency.
The action represented the most significant response by the Board of Supervisors to address a camp that’s overtaken the county-owned Joe Rodota Trail in west Santa Rosa.
The plan calls for at least two sanctioned encampments featuring indoor and outdoor shelter and services — at a cost of more than $2 million — and leveraging another $5.5 million to acquire existing housing.
The move came with some dissension among board members, who have postponed action for more than a month and now face another two- to six-month wait for even the quickest solutions offered Monday to take hold.
Several supervisors voiced the concern that the focus on the Joe Rodota Trail took away from efforts to address homelessness throughout the county.
“I’m going to be blunt. Spending $11 million for 200 people on the Joe Rodota Trail does not help the homeless community countywide,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, pointing to problems within her district, which includes Sonoma Valley.
Supervisor James Gore and outgoing board Chairman David Rabbitt, to a lesser extent, expressed similar reservations.
But Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the Joe Rodota Trail, pushed back.
“I recognize that addressing the Joe Rodota Trail is not going to solve homelessness countywide,” Hopkins said in an interview. “We also have to recognize that the Joe Rodota Trail is a public health emergency, period.”
The special meeting, the supervisors’ last of the year, came before a capacity crowd, and many people standing at the back and along the sides of the room held signs urging more aggressive action to help homeless people.
Referencing the long rollout period of even the short-term options floated Monday, Miles Sarvis, a leader with the newly formed homeless advocacy organization Squeaky Wheel Coalition, struck an upbeat tone.
“We need to do it soon,” Sarvis said to applause from the capacity crowd.
“It’s freezing outside. So let’s get on it. Let’s do it.”
Locations for the two sanctioned camps were not publicly identified or discussed Monday. They are expected to shelter up to 40 people apiece, and include safe parking options, according to county documents.
Despite the precise amount of the county allocation — $2.08 million — county officials would not confirm whether they have a short list of properties.
“It’s a good question,” Rabbitt said, referring to the lack of discussion Monday about specific sites.
“You can’t identify even the houses or where we’re talking about specifically because the debate then becomes about that.”
Supervisor Shirlee Zane, along with Gore and Hopkins, denied that the county had already picked sites, but Zane did offer that county-owned land at the airport has been considered by staff.
County staff last week also identified a plot of land near The Living Room, a Santa Rosa day shelter for homeless and at-risk women and children.
Potential sites will be weighed based on their accessibility and proximity to services and transportation, according to the county.