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Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    Santa Rosa ranked 10th happiest city in america despite ongoing social difficulties


    In October of 2020, a STAR reporter visited a homeless camp at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. There was a community of tents set up across the grounds, one of which belonged to a woman named Kristine Sullivan. She had a tent set up next to her car with a tarp hanging between them and a dog poked its head out of the rear window of her car while the woman and the reporter talked. “We really need help,” she pleaded, “I’m trying to get my kid back and the fire took everything.” How could this conversation be taking place in the “tenth happiest” city in America?

    On March 8, Wallethub, a personal finance website based in Washington D.C., posted an in-depth research report on the happiest cities in America. Santa Rosa was ranked the tenth happiest city in the country, five below San Jose and ten places below the top city: Fremont, CA. The report rose questions for many: Happiest based on what data? Was every demographic equally taken into account? How can Santa Rosa really be the tenth “happiest” place in America? 

    Wallethub came to these conclusions after comparing the most populated cities in the country. “We examined each city based on 31 key indicators of happiness, ranging from the depression rate to the income-growth rate to average leisure time spent per day,” explained Adam McCann, a financial writer on the Wallethub website. 

    The cities were each ranked under three subjects: Emotional and physical wellbeing, income and employment, and community and environment. Emotional and physical wellbeing were weighted more than the other two categories and included statistics like suicide rate, depression rate, adequate sleep rate, food insecurity rate, sports participation rate, and life expectancy. 

    Income and employment looked at income growth rate, poverty rate, job security, unemployment rate, commute time, job satisfaction, and 4+ star job opportunities per total people in the labor force. 

    The category for community and environment, on the other hand, included WalletHub’s most caring cities ranking, separation and divorce rate, hate crime incidents per capita, ideal weather, and acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. 

    When looking at the individual scores you can see that the “happiest” city in America, Fremont, ranked first out of 182 cities in emotional and physical wellbeing and fifth in community and environment. Santa Rosa was ranked lower in community and environment with a rank of 33 out of 182, but was ranked seventh from the top when it came to emotional and physical wellbeing. 

    For many, however, it has been hard to grasp how Santa Rosa was ranked seventh in the county for physical and emotional wellbeing when for the third time in three weeks, homeless residents of Santa Rosa have been forced from their encampments and told they had to find new homes.

     The Santa Rosa Police Department declined to make a statement on the homeless camp removals, but they respond automatically to those who contact them with, “If you are inquiring about a homeless encampment within the City of Santa Rosa, please know that the City of Santa Rosa is working on this situation.  If you would like further details and the latest updates regarding encampments in Santa Rosa, please visit Homeless Encampment Assistance Program [(HEAP)].” 

    The report on the SRPD website says that the outreach team was only able to successfully engage with 31 of the estimated 50 to 60 residents from the community. In an article published at the Press Democrat by Will Schmitt, one man that was living at the Industrial Drive camp “chafed at the lack of options being offered to him, given his medical situation — he has suffered through cancer and hepatitis C. He was hoping for a roof, or short of that, a government-sanctioned campsite.” 

     According to the same article, Sonoma County has more than 500 chronically homeless individuals in Santa Rosa, which also has one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness among suburban communities across America at 33 homeless adults per 10,000 people. 

    According to a report on Yahoo Finance, the national homeless rate is 17 people per 10,000 and “Boston, Massachusetts has the highest rate of sheltered homelessness at 99.1 people per 10,000, [while] San Francisco has the most unsheltered homelessness at 59.8 people per 10,000.”

     The 2020 Sonoma County Homeless Census Comprehensive Report stated that there were 2,745 homeless persons in Sonoma County with a confidence level of 95%.  The police administration page also mentioned plans to clean out another encampment on March 9 at Jennings Park. 

    Publishing the fact that Santa Rosa is the tenth happiest city in America has proved controversial to many, including residents of the city itself. 

    According to Elissa Chudwin at the Press Democrat, “The individual criteria that pushed Santa Rosa to the top of the list was its adequate sleep ranking (#9), income growth (#29), sports participation (#34) and hours worked per week (#35). But Santa Rosa did not fare as well in other categories, including job security (#141), separation and divorce rate (#104) and hate crime incidents per capita (#104)”.

    Anonymous users are able to post their thoughts on the Press Democrat’s website under the article and many took the chance to share their thoughts. One, who’s screen name was “FedUp” wrote, “And if you are caught robbing or selling drugs you can rely on being out of jail [the] same day! What a joke this survey is. We are specifically known for record wildfires and homeless[ness].”

    Another going by the name of “Wakeupamerica” added, “More like the best places to buy drugs and/or get robbed, maybe on the same day.” 

    According to Macrotrends, a research platform for long term investors, “the Santa Rosa, CA crime rate for 2018 was 466.75 per 100,000 population, a 14.01% increase from 2017” and crime actually increased steadily in Santa Rosa from 2015 to 2018.

    The same site shows similar statistics for rape reports, which also sharply increased between 2015 and 2018 and aggravated assault reports which in 2018 was “297.18 per 100,000 population, a 8.74% increase from 2017”. 

    While the validity of a personal finance website with only 50 employees may be questionable when it comes to the correct ranking of the happiest cities in America, it does make one wonder what would make a city the “happiest” place in the country and how did Santa Rosa–with all its homelessness, crime, and fires–made it to tenth on the list. 

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