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Countywide group seeks to back-fund Joe Rodota Trail camp relocation

Homeless outreach and housing assistance programs in the north county, already sparsely funded, are facing new money cuts so the recent costs to relocate the county’s largest homeless encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa can be covered. The pending cuts equal a 34% reduction in funding for outreach services, rental vouchers and new shelter projects. Programs in all other parts of Sonoma County are also being impacted.

The shifting of homeless funds approved last Thursday by the Home Sonoma County Leadership Council, the primary decision-making body for the Sonoma County homeless system of care, could mean the loss of proposed new housing units the city of Healdsburg and the nonprofit Reach For Home have been working on, according to Healdsburg’s housing coordinator Stephen Sotomayor.

Overall cuts just to Reach For Home totals $48,323. 

“This isn’t just a loss of nearly $50,000,” said Healdsburg city councilmember David Hagele. “Because we’ll also lose matching funds and reduced flexibility.”

Reach For Home’s executive director Colleen Carmichael called the cuts “unfair” and geographically unequal. According to a report by the Home Sonoma County Leadership Council, north Sonoma County has 10% of the county’s total homeless population but will only receive 4% of overall funding. 

The Home Sonoma County Leadership Council is comprised of representatives from all incorporated cities and county social, community development and legal agencies. It has a total allocation of $4,681,640 in various homeless program funds for 2020-2021. 

As word of the funding cuts was discussed at the latest Northern Sonoma County Homelessness Task Force meeting on Feb. 7, county supervisor James Gore decried the funding cuts and shared his anger over not getting a vote on the action. (The Board of Supervisors has separate funds for homeless projects that come from state and federal funds and supplemental general fund amounts. Gore does not sit on the Home Sonoma County Leadership Council)

“I want to push for an indoor-outdoor homeless shelter in each of the county’s five districts,” said Gore, “but we don’t have that money right now. But we need to find the money and figure out what’s the right thing to do for north county.” (An indoor-outdoor temporary shelter was erected in east county to relocate 60 of the Joe Rodota Trail campers.)

Reach For Home’s Carmichael said cutting current program funds was “not a right thing to do. We’re doing lots of work and we’re not being rewarded. The loudest horn is getting the money.”

The north county task force, with staff and officials from the county, Windsor, Healdsburg and develop a comprehensive strategic plan to address solutions to homelessness. It has set a goal to reach “functional zero” homelessness by June 30, 2025. Based on last year’s annual homeless count, there are 248 homeless people in the north county.

The large percentage of programs currently addressing the north county’s homeless problem are being done by the nonprofit Reach For Home, with a paid staff of four people, including a “street medicine” team. The nonprofit is funded primarily from grants and donations and has a small services contract with the city of Healdsburg. Although it performs daily outreach and support in Windsor and Cloverdale, Reach For Home currently is not funded by those cities.

“We’d like to get paid for the work we do,” said Carmichael. “It’s not that way right now and now I have to try to find another $50,000.”

Cloverdale’s city manager David Kelley said possible support for Reach For Home has been discussed at staff level while his city is conducting its own comprehensive homelessness plan. Cloverdale’s mayor Gus Wolter said he prefers to add more “prevention” tactics and programs to reduce homelessness before it happens. (A call for a response from the town of Windsor staff was not returned for this article.)

One of the many recommendations being formulated by the north county task force is to double Reach For Home’s staffing to eight people. Healdsburg’s Sotomayor also said “we need an emergency shelter right now.” A temporary shelter with 15 beds is opened at Healdsburg’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on cold or rainy nights, staffed by Reach For Home and volunteers. Cloverdale and Windsor do not have shelters.

“Where I see us failing is we are not informing our communities well enough about the scope of the problem,” said Cloverdale city councilmember Melanie Bagby at the task force meeting, “We should tell the public how they can help.”

Rohnert Park assistant city manager Don Swartz, a member of the countywide leadership council, told the north county task force he was “jealous” of Reach For Home. “You (north county) definitely have the best services. We had a really tough meeting and nobody liked the outcome.” 

Money for all the county’s winter emergency shelters was not cut, but currently there is no emergency shelter funded for north county.

Other goals of the north county task force include working more closely with landlords and property managers to improve efforts at homeless prevention and reduced evictions. Discussion was shared about “humanizing” the homeless population in advertising and community outreach. Methods to improve the countywide Coordinated Entry program were listed, including the training of more staff and volunteers. 

Plans, but no identified money, were listed for a mobile van with 

Wi-Fi service to facilitate better field intakes and delivery of services.

All homeless people contacted during outreach services are registered into a Sonoma County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS.) Individuals are “scored” on a vulnerability scale to determine priorities for providing services and shelter.

“This list changes every day, all the time,” said Rick Cafferata, outreach worker for Reach For Home. “We can’t promise anyone we can place them in a shelter or room because the people on the list get added to or moved.” Cafferata said lots of homeless men miss out on housing opportunities because they give “macho” answers to the vulnerability interview, lowering their priority rating. 

Cafferata who works many long days at all parts of north county said one area where services are lacking is that a contracted mental health field team is only covers a small portion of the area, only south of Windsor. Also, Windsor has no intake sites for Coordinated Entry, while seven exist in Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

“I think the task force is doing good work,” said Cloverdale’s Kelley. “I know it’s taking time but we’re at least meeting together and doing a sub-regional, coordinated approach. I wish we could go faster so the community could see some progress."

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