The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

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 cleans up homeless encampment on Industrial Drive, sixth camp cleanup in under one year


    A homeless encampment on Industrial and Center Drives in Santa Rosa was cleared by the city last Tuesday. Footage of the event showed bulldozers piling left-behind belongings, furniture and trash into dumpsters, while Santa Rosa police officers oversaw the clean up.

    “Due to the health and safety concerns within the encampment and impacts to the surrounding area, including a nearby school (Lattice Educational Services) which has students and staff on campus, the City enacted its HEAP protocols to close and clean up the encampment,” Communications Coordinator for the city, Kristi Buffo, sent in an email.

    “Encampments have been present in this area for the past couple years but at a much smaller scale than the most recent encampment, which grew in size drastically over the past several months,” the email continued.

    HEAP refers to the Homeless Encampment Assistance Program, and requires the city to provide encampment residents “reasonable notice, an opportunity to be assessed for shelter and services, access to adequate shelter, storage of belongings, and a process to appeal a denial of any disability-related requests for reasonable accommodation,” according to city officials.

    The encampment on Industrial Drive had between 50 and 60 residents at the time of the clean up, but had swelled to around 100 people by the end of January. Previous plans to clean it up had been postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, one in the city’s largest shelter, Samuel L. Jones Hall, which has since been resolved, and the other within the actual encampment, according to an article by Press Democrat writer Will Schmitt.

    Surrounding businesses estimated that the encampment had been growing since late last year, although the area has a history of homelessness on a much smaller scale.

    A representative from Bottle Barn on Industrial Drive wrote in an email, “We have always had a number of homeless folks living in and around the Industrial Park and for some years now. RV’s would ‘move-in’ for weeks/months on end, but the local authorities would usually break it up when it grew beyond six or more vehicles.”

     Shannon Hoffmann, owner of Crumb Hither Baking on Industrial Drive, guessed the encampment had cropped up around September 2020. “We first just started a few motorhomes and then it just continued to grow. And then pretty soon we had tents,” she continued.

    Of the 50-60 residents, the county’s main outreach program, Catholic Charities’ Homeless Services Outreach Team, “successfully engaged with 31 of approximately 50-60 people at the encampment, and 27 individuals accepted shelter placements. This included 19 individuals who relocated to the City-owned Samuel Jones Hall Homeless Shelter, five individuals who received placement in hotel rooms, and three pending placements. HOST was also able to place an individual they have worked with in several encampments into permanent housing,” according to a statement on the Santa Rosa city website.

    Catholic Charities’ assistant director of communications John Pavik said, “One thing you have to remember is for folks who are living at encampments, going into a shelter, it may seem hard to understand, but it’s actually kind of scary for some people. These are folks who have past trauma… that living in a large scale shelter that’s a little intimidating. And so, it’s not because they don’t want help or don’t want to make their life better. It’s just there’s a fear there, and it’s very understandable given, you know, what many of these people have been through.”

    Businesses in the area that commented on the story shared conflicted feelings on the city’s decision to clear out the encampment. On one hand, the encampment was large enough to pose serious health and safety risks to people in the surrounding properties, but on the other hand, it’s a situation where mass amounts of vulnerable people ended up displaced and alone again.

    The representative from Bottle Barn wrote, “We are excited to see the neighborhood cleaned up again, particularly for our friends that operate businesses on or around Industrial Dr. Obviously, there is a human element to this story which is very sad. I wish I had a solution for the homeless problem, but it is complicated to say the least.”

    Hoffmann shared this sentiment and said that while she’s sympathetic to the hardships that the homeless in the area face, she was relieved when it was cleaned up.

    “Obviously, there’s no easy answer for our homeless issue, but [the encampment] was also a burden on us… my establishment was broken into… there’s human feces, there’s needles, there’s all kinds of stuff… so I am relieved that it’s cleaned up, I have to say, but I do feel sympathetic for the situation that people are in,” she said. 

    Richard Wooten, the general manager of Alsco, which was right next to the encampment, explained that, even though he didn’t notice serious effects to the store, he experienced, “the occasional person wandering up, you know, they seemed like… maybe they had a mental health issue that also needed to be addressed… but we would just call the local authorities to get them some help.”

    In a recorded city council meeting from Feb. 9, Kelli Kuykendall, Santa Rosa’s housing and community services manager, said that due to the pandemic, the city had previously held off on dispersing encampments per Sonoma County and CDC guidelines, which recommend that cities do not displace individuals to prevent the spread of COVID-19. She explained that consideration for the health and safety of the residents within encampments, as well as the surrounding areas, outweighed CDC guidelines during the pandemic.

    The encampment is one of six that have been already cleared by the city since May 2020, according to city officials. The city is planning to resolve a seventh encampment in Jennings Park this month.

    To combat the prevalence of homelessness, Santa Rosa allocated $3.8 million to fund “emergency shelters for single adults and families, day services, street outreach, and housing assistance in alignment with its Housing First Strategy,” for Santa Rosa’s 2020/21 fiscal year.

    In the city council meeting, Kuykendall said that the city spent $10.8 million in additional funds during the pandemic alone.

    There was a slight decrease in homelessness in the last year. The Sonoma County’s Homeless Census for 2020 shows that Santa Rosa’s homeless population has reduced from 1,661 to 1,461 between 2019 and 2020. But that still makes up more than half of the total population of people experiencing homelessness in the entire Sonoma County.

    The city funds programs and partners with nonprofits that provide a spectrum of services for people experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, mental health issues, and multiple other hardships.

    Pavik explained that Catholic Charities works closely with the county and other service providers to record the total number of people who receive social services in any given year through the Community Entry system. Services recorded range anywhere from immigration to food drives to housing and financial assistance for the precariously housed.

    Tom Bieri, the executive director of Community Support Network, said that the network runs programs designed to help people on a subjective basis; “Some [programs are] higher intensity and some of lower intensity depending on where the people are in terms of their needs… whether that’s individuals that have behavioral health challenges or who are young or who are old or who have physical health needs.”

    The high homeless population “is a public health issue for everyone involved. It is not a kindness to let people live on the street or in their cars… The additional dynamic is that there is nowhere near enough low-income housing. Waits for subsidized housing are two to three years on the average,” Marti Lynn Martinez, marketing and social media director, and Cindy Pasko, executive director, of the social service provider The Living Room wrote in an email.

    “We need so much more mental health and addiction services available,” they continued.

    While there are programs and assistance providers in place, and some evidence of progress, the homelessness issue in Santa Rosa is not going away anytime soon, and the longer it takes to solve it completely, the more impact it has on the community, both the homeless and the housed.

    “Nobody wants to see somebody’s belongings get bulldozed and thrown away… It’s just a sad situation and there’s no easy answer,” Hoffmann said.

    Donate to Sonoma State Star

    Your donation will support the student journalists of Sonoma State University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    More to Discover
    Donate to Sonoma State Star