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Sonoma County Approves Plan to Clear Joe Rodota Trail, Create Safe Sleeping Areas for Homeless

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted today to approve a multi-step plan to address the recurring homeless encampments along Joe Rodota Trail, declaring a shelter crisis and authorizing the creation of up to two emergency housing sites for unsheltered people to camp. The plan, approved unanimously during a special session of the board, is part of a longer-term effort to create enough interim and permanent housing to significantly reduce homelessness in Sonoma County.

Overall, the $3 million plan approved by the board will expand interim housing and support services to homeless people and return the 8½-mile Joe Rodota Trail linking Santa Rosa and Sebastopol to its intended purpose as a safe route for walking and cycling.

The county has repeatedly closed sections of the trail over the last four years due to public safety concerns, most recently on Jan. 20, when 34 campers were relocated and provided services and interim housing. However encampments along the trail have continued to grow since the trail was reopened Jan. 27. Today, as many as 75 individuals are camping along the trail west of Brittain Lane in southwest Santa Rosa.

Subject to certain exceptions, local governments cannot prohibit camping on public property unless there are alternative locations on public property where individuals are lawfully allowed to sleep, the individuals have been offered adequate shelter, or the individuals otherwise have the means to acquire shelter. As a result, the Board of Supervisors  approved the creation of  emergency housing sites for homeless individuals. The locations of the sites were not finalized, however, staff has recommended use of a parking lot at Permit Sonoma (2550 Ventura Ave.), at the county government center, and part of the parking area at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building (1351 Maple Ave.). A site north of the Sonoma County Detention Center at the west end of Russell Avenue east of Highway 101 may also be considered.

The board directed staff to organize meetings with veterans who use the Veterans Memorial Building as well as residents who live and work near the targeted shelter sites to address neighborhood concerns about potential adverse impacts.

County officials made clear during today’s meeting that the emergency housing sites will not just be locations for camping. The sites will have fencing, sanitation, storage facilities, quiet hours and visitor hours and rules to protect the safety of occupants and the public. Private security, similar to what is provided at other managed encampments, will be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to patrol the site and the surrounding area.

The county also will provide support services that include behavioral and physical health care, housing assistance, case management and access to job training for residents of the managed care sites. Case management will be “housing-focused,” meaning that residents will work daily on activities that help prepare them for the next housing steps.

Given the urgency of the need for additional shelter space, staff hopes to open the first managed encampment sometime in March.

To cover the costs of today’s approved steps, the Board of Supervisors approved $3 million to operate the emergency sleep sites for one year and expand support services. The money will come from state Medi-Cal reimbursements and the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

The Board of Supervisors also allocated $50,000 from General Fund Contingencies and approved increased contract services for Regional Parks to clean up and secure Joe Rodota Trail. The board authorized the department’s director, Bert Whitaker, to close sections of the Joe Rodota Trail as necessary to reduce health and safety risks for trail users and the community. Once all occupants of the encampments have been relocated, Sonoma County Regional Parks will begin cleaning up the surrounding area.


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