The city’s homeless came to the forefront Monday, Sept. 3 as Healdsburg City Council addressed the county’s point-in-time census.
The council received a presentation from Housing Administrator Steven Sotomayor, representatives from Reach for Home and Sonoma County at its regular meeting at city hall. Council also voted 5-0 to adopt a resolution to use Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) and HOME program loans funds to make improvements to city-owned Victory Studios and Apartments, which serves the low- and very-low income population.
The point-in-time presentation first went through an overview of the census, which is taken annually in the county. The census was taken Jan. 25.
North county has 248 homeless individuals, according to the census. This is down 348 from 2018 and down 273 from 2017.
Of those, 232 are unsheltered and 16 are sheltered, or living in transitional housing.
In Healdsburg, 73 people were counted, compared to Windsor’s 53, Cloverdale’s 59, and 63 in the unincorporated area. It was noted by the county’s Continuum Care Coordinator, Michael Gause, that populations can shift in an area this small, especially as many people live out of vehicles.
The council also heard from Reach for Home on what it does.
Reach for Home works through the county’s coordinated entry program to place homeless individuals in temporary housing, in addition to other services. Coordinated entry provides a risk assessment of homeless individuals and those with the highest risk of staying homeless are given priority. The one exception noted by Reach for Home Executive Director Colleen Carmichael was Victory apartments, which have local preference language in place.
Reach for Home is also the manager of Victory, which has 11 units. They are split between Rapid Rehousing and Supportive Services Housing.
Rapid Rehousing, as the name suggests, works to move people quickly to a point where they are able to afford a market rate home. The rent subsidy is steadily decreased as self-sufficiency is attained. Six of Victory’s units are run in this manner.
Supportive Services Housing is for the most vulnerable chronically homeless with either physical or mental disabilities. Rent for this category is 30% of income with no minimum income.
In upcoming projects, Reach for Home will also work with Replay Destinations with 10 low-income units in the Mill District. Burbank Housing has also committed eight units in Healdsburg.
Going back to the census, Councilman Joe Naujokas questioned what coordination is done with law enforcement. The census is mandated to be in the last 10 days of January, so it is known well in advance, but “it seems like clockwork there are CHP (California Highway Patrol) sweeps two weeks before.”
In the past it has been noted that it is harder to have an accurate count when homeless residents have been recently displaced.
Gause said that cities including Healdsburg’s police department have been cooperative and in good communication during census efforts and didn’t note any issues with the county Sheriff. He did note that communication has broken down with CHP in the past and sweeps have occurred at poor times, including this year.
Naujokas also asked how residents could help move the needle in the direction of providing homes.
Carmichael said coming in to Reach for Home and learning more about what it means to be homeless can help erase the stigma surrounding the issue and can lead to a more popular effort to help.
Councilman Shaun McCaffery asked what the viability of temporary housing such as converted portable units could be and if land availability was a large issue.
Carmichael said there are creative options available, but providing that kind of housing would have a limited timeframe for people to stay and without further options afterward would result in the same problem.
Four came to speak during public comment. Several members of the homeless community were also in attendance and showed support for residents who spoke.
Chris Herrod said he hoped the presentation will serve as a foundation for the city policy so it can quickly take action as winter approaches.
Gail Jonas noted that Healdsburg has a higher homeless count than Windsor, yet a third the overall population. She also noted the health benefits of shelters and urged the city to provide more immediate temporary housing.
Brian Sommer thanked those homeless people who attended for taking part in the government process and wanted clear metric-driven goals for staff. He also noted that limiting economic opportunity, such as hotel development, limits tax revenue and options for the city to pursue.
Lyn Murray said she used to live near a homeless encampment in San Jose that had 300 people in it. She said she was shocked that Healdsburg has the same percentage of homeless as the large city.
Mayor David Hagele wrapped up the item by thanking those who spoke and noting the role regional effort will have in the future.
Hagele said he and Vice Mayor Leah Gold attended a recent Regional Homeless Planning meeting that combines north county representatives. The next meeting is Sept. 19.
He said they hit the question of, “How do we figure out what we need in our region? I think that was a key first step.”
The funding for Victory Studios and Apartments will receive $250,000 from HEAP grant money to construct a navigation center and $250,000 in a HOME loan to improve the apartments.
Councilwoman Evelyn Mitchell thanked staff for their work to get the funding before making a motion to accept the funds and adjust appropriations accordingly, which passed unanimously.
Sotomayor noted that the funds will not only extend the life of the housing project, it will help integrate it with the surrounding neighborhood. He said the city has already found an architect to assist with the project.
The navigation will be a resource center and meeting place for people experiencing homelessness, Sotomayor said. He also noted that no residents will be displaced during improvements as they will be able to rotate.
The HOME loan is a 30 year, 3% simple interest loan that has a mandated project completion date of June 30, 2021. The HEAP project also has the same deadline.