On Friday evening, as most people unwind from the workweek in the snug comfort of home, hundreds of homeless Sonoma County youth will be seeking shelter. They will dodge the expected rains under bridges and awnings, and ward off the cold any way that they can.
More than 60 community leaders leaders including 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin will sleep outside Friday night to bring attention to youth homelessness.
According to the Point in Time homeless count conducted annually by the county Community Development Commission, Sonoma County has a higher rate of youth homelessness per capita than either San Francisco or Los Angeles. Over 515 youth ages 12 to 24 are homeless in Sonoma County on any given night, and 88 percent of the 18 to 24-year-olds in that cohort sleep outside every night.
To spotlight the problem and raise funds toward a solution, Social Advocates for Youth, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit dedicated to youth advocacy, is hosting an event dubbed “One Cold Night” Friday where more than 60 community leaders will bundle up at six sites throughout the county to sleep outdoors like homeless kids do. In Sonoma, they’ll hunker down at Arnold Field, protected only by a donated sleeping bag and tarp.
“It’s going to be really interesting, dealing with the elements,” said volunteer camper Gary Saperstein. “It’s supposed to rain, and I’m not happy about the forecast, but when you’re homeless, the weather is what it is. You just deal with it.”
Saperstein, a Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau board member, will turn 59 on Friday, and when he was first approached by the nonprofit to participate, admitted to a knee-jerk “no.”
“But then I said to myself, ‘What do I want to do? How do I want to celebrate this birthday?’ I live here in a community I love and have a beautiful home. My heart is my home, and how fortunate am I? Why not give back on this last year of my 50s?”
Saperstein will join Gorin, City Council member Rachel Hundley, Sonoma Raceway’s Chelsea Lazzari, Chris Mahurin of the Santa Rosa Police Department, Ryan Lely of Pangloss Cellars and Repris Wines, Mike Sullivan of Benovia, and Jeremy Turpen of Wavestaff for what’s predicted to be a cold, wet night.
Each of the eight Sonoma “sleepers” committed to raise $2,500, and many of them will exceed their goal. Saperstein, for one, has raised nearly $4,000 through social media, email blasts, and by hosting an event at the General’s Daughter.
“We put envelopes at all the tables and went around and told people about the organization,” Saperstein said. “Pretty much everybody made a donation, from $3 to $1,000.”
Shelby Harris, communications and marketing manager at SAY, says such generosity “speaks to the power” of the event.
According to the 2018 homeless count, 65 percent of the county’s homeless have lived here for a decade or longer. Forty-two percent were involved in the foster care system, 48 percent have a GED or high school diploma, 72 percent are non-Hispanic/Latino, and 56 percent have been homeless for one year or more. If safe, affordable housing could be found in the area, 90 percent of the county’s homeless individuals would accept it.
Social Advocates for Youth’s mission focuses on kids, who become homeless for myriad reasons.