Community leaders are agreed that new vision is needed to address the lower Russian River’s growing homeless crunch, but they remain vague on what a successful new strategy might look like.
What’s important now is an alternative “to what has not worked over the last several years,” said Russian River Fire Protection District representative Rob Cassady at the homeless strategy session last week organized by Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and the county’s Community Development Commission. The session focused on possible uses of $750,000 the Board of Supervisors approved this year to address lower Russian River homelessness.
The board “gave us a unique opportunity with not a lot of strings attached,” said county Community Development Commission (CDC) Executive Director Margaret Van Vliet.
Low-cost housing for the homeless remains the key goal, but what counts as “housing” was an open question for the task force of 16 invited representatives gathered at the county Water Agency’s education center next to Wohler Bridge.
The federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) criteria for housing doesn’t include tents “or trailers without any water or plumbing,” said Van Vliet. From the CDC’s perspective, housing means “a dwelling that’s meant for permanent habitation,” said Van Vliet. “A tent is not meant for permanent inhabitation.”
The task force was selected to represent “the diversity of views from government, business, non-profits and concerned citizens in Guerneville and the surrounding area,” said Hopkins’ invitation. Attendees included the Sonoma County Sheriff’s department, Russian River and Monte Rio fire and medical services, the Russian River and Monte Rio recreation and park districts and local non-profit service providers such as the Russian River Health Center and West County Community Services.
The new task force is to issue a “request for indications of interest” (RFI) next week that will ask for “actionable investment recommendations” on how to spend the county funding budgeted to target river-area homeless issues.
The money will be granted to projects intended to “mitigate the impacts of homelessness” and cut the lower river’s unsheltered homeless population by 25 percent over the next 18 months.
With nearly 250 homeless people estimated to be living without shelter in the Guerneville-Monte Rio area, the task force set a goal to find housing for 50 local homeless people by January 2019.
Most of the money, $500,000, will be allocated for housing-related use “that helps people get into housing,” said CDC Special Projects Director Jim Leddy.
The $500,000 is not earmarked for rent, but it could be some form of assistance to get people into housing or help prevent them from becoming homeless, said Leddy.
At the beginning of the meeting, Hopkins made it clear she was not interested in ideas that so far haven’t worked, such as a proposal for a permanent homeless services facility and winter shelter. That plan, involving CDC purchase of a horse ranch off Armstrong Woods Road, collapsed after neighbors lambasted that site as too close to residences and Guerneville School.
Applicants with project proposals will have until Oct. 9 to submit their paperwork. The task force and CDC plan to review the proposals by Nov. 3 and make recommendations that would be voted on by county supervisors in early December.