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Russian River Task Force First Meeting

Local Residents Represent the Community
at the 
Homeless Task Force Meeting

Aug 31, 2017
by Mark Emmett, River Community Advocates

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5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins talked about prioritizing the homeless problem in the lower river, and empowering local communities to have a greater voice in local governance during her campaign. We’re very pleased to report, she’s walking her talk and keeping her campaign promises.

Supervisor Hopkins was able to secure $1m to specifically be spent on the lower river homeless issue, as well as $1m to avoid the elimination of some law enforcement services in the lower river area during the recent budget hearings. This was no small accomplishment for a freshman Supervisor. The Board of Supervisors has also since approved the framework for the creation of Municipal Advisory Councils, and Hopkins has already organized a lower river homeless task force meeting on the 23rd of August, with 16 local groups being represented.

Instead of just letting the county employees at the Community Development Commission in Santa Rosa decide how to spend the $1m in the lower river, which is how things have historically been done, Supervisor Hopkins has shown the wisdom and integrity to involve the community in deciding how to spend their own resources to try and help solve their own problems. She wrote an article in the August edition of the Sonoma County Gazette for more details:sonomacountygazette.com

The groups aren’t all just Santa Rosa county government and special interest groups this time, and it’s not a secretive meeting where decisions will be made that impact the community without representation from community members themselves. The local press has been invited to report on the meeting. The reps range from law enforcement, local fire, water and parks reps, to local service providers and the Chamber of Commerce, but also a non-Chamber business rep. The Guerneville Community Alliance and the Friends and Residents of Guerneville have been invited to have seats at the table to represent the voices of local residents. The new addition of two local community resident advocacy groups is welcome progress in how decisions are going to be made for us who live here in our view.

Russian River Task Force setting goals

The GCA handed out a community survey at the town meeting regarding the homeless service center proposal on AWR last March. We wanted to get a more accurate gauge on how the community felt about solutions, rather than just listening to the loudest voices in the room or deciding for the community without everyone’s input. We counted the results and found that the community overwhelmingly wanted more law enforcement, more service provider accountability, and was in favor of programs that show results, but against programs that don’t. We’ve incorporated the survey results in what we are specifically going to advocate for at the task force meeting. In addition, we have written a grant proposal to try and obtain a $50k grant for emergency housing, utility, and food relief for our local service and hospitality industry WORKERS who are contributing members of our community, to prevent them from becoming our future homeless.

What we’re advocating on behalf of the community:

To be given the requested start-up funding and the role of administering the local worker emergency relief fund grant that we have proposed– We are a zero overhead volunteer non-profit organization, which would allow 100% of the funds to be distributed to the intended recipients for the intended purpose - to help prevent our local workers from being our future homeless. This shift in direction toward homelessness prevention is a small fraction of the cost of dealing with homelessness after the fact, both financially and morally (our grant proposal can be provided to anyone in the community for review upon request).

More service provider accountability – We would like to see the results of any program aimed at ending homelessness publicly published annually. We would like an efficient and effective complaint resolution process for nuisances and/or criminal behavior associated with any service provider facility within our community. We would like the downtown “neighborhood code of conduct” that was agreed upon in the 2011 RASAD report enforced. We would like to see a local citizen oversight committee to ensure agreements between the county and any service provider are being complied with, and that programs are designed to serve the existing local homeless population only, without recruiting more homeless people to the lower river area.

More availability of residential substance abuse and mental health treatment beds within the county, and/or expedited efforts to get people who want and need these types of treatments into programs where they are available, even if they are in another county. We have a local outreach worker and a dedicated deputy in place in the lower river area now, but we are lacking in residential treatment facility beds for them to be placed into programs to help them get off the streets and get their lives on track in this county. There are available programs in other counties that will take people, but the bureaucracy has been an obstacle.We think in the interest of the community as well as the folks who want and need the help, this needs to change.

Elimination of illegal encampments, especially on the river banks – We would like to see strict trespassing enforcement, and folks getting into legal shelters and services designed to help them improve the quality of their lives instead.

Continued law enforcement efforts – Our understanding is that we have our dedicated deputy on a temporary basis for a few months. We would like to see that change to a permanent situation as long as it is needed. Any support we can offer to accomplish that, we will.

If you would like to learn more about the Lower River Area Community Alliances, become involved as a volunteer, or if you have some community concerns or solutions you would like to share, you can “like” our Guerneville Community Alliance and/or Russian River Alliance FB pages. You can also contact Mark Emmett at 707-529-0534 (Guerneville) or Chuck Ramsey at 707-239-1639 (Monte Rio).

River Community Advocates by Jennifer Wertz and Mark Emmett

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