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Santa Rosa Homeless Meeting

Santa Rosa Special Meeting on Homelessness

May 18, 2017

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Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey

OPEN LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY REGARDING HOMELESSNESS

Dear Community Member,

Over the past two years, the number of homeless individuals in our City has declined. At the same time, however, the problem has become much more visible and its impacts on the entire community more apparent. This letter is intended to engage you in a dialogue on the issue, to share Santa Rosa’s efforts that are underway to address the problem and to invite you to be involved in the solution.

Homelessness is a major and growing concern for the Santa Rosa community and has been identified as one of the City Council’s top priorities. To that end, the Council has taken a number of steps toward solving the problem, including the adoption of a Housing First Strategy and Housing Action Plan. But these steps represent a beginning, not an end to addressing the issue.

Unlike a public works project or an economic development initiative, homelessness is a complex social issue with many contributing factors that cannot be easily or quickly solved by a single agency or organization. Solutions require both immediate and long-term strategies, and partnerships with County agencies, community organizations and individuals in the community. We want you to know what the City is doing and to invite you to with work with us to reduce homelessness in Santa Rosa.

Next week, on May 24, the City Council will begin a series of Special Meetings meant to refocus our efforts on homelessness in Santa Rosa. We invite you to attend. Read on for more details.

While Sonoma County has seen a 36% reduction in homelessness since 2011, the issue has become more visible as we are seeing more persons experiencing homelessness than ever before in our downtown, parks and neighborhoods. Recent data identified about 1,900 unsheltered people living in Sonoma County, which poses significant health and safety risks to those who are unsheltered and has far-reaching negative impacts on the broader community.

In 2015, recognizing the importance of this issue, the Council approved additional resources to address homelessness. The City’s Housing and Community Services Department introduced and expanded several service programs, including the Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST), operated by Catholic Charities. HOST partners social workers with the Santa Rosa Police Department (SRPD) and other service providers to actively engage unsheltered individuals in the downtown area and other known encampments into services and housing. In 2016, SRPD’s Downtown Enforcement Team expanded to six officers and a dedicated Sergeant, providing expanded coverage in the downtown. They work closely with HOST to help those they can, and for individuals who absolutely refuse services, take enforcement actions against those who break the law.

Since its launch in Santa Rosa in August 2015, HOST has made significant progress, helping more than 350 unsheltered people get off the streets. Individuals have been reunified with family members or placed into shelter and housing. 
 In addition to HOST, the City supports several other programs as part of its strategy to address homelessness and create more housing opportunities. These efforts include:

  • COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGY: Adoption of a Housing First Strategy and Work Plan, which prioritizes the provision of permanent housing as the primary tool for ending homelessness in alignment with Federal and State policy. Housing First does not require people experiencing homelessness to address all their problems, but takes them as they are following evidence-based practices.
  • REGIONAL PLANNING: Membership on the Board of the Sonoma County Continuum of Care (CoC), a public-private partnership that brings together local government, service providers and community advocates to develop collaborative strategies for reducing homelessness. Annually, the CoC brings in about $3 million in Federal resources to Sonoma County.
  • HOUSING FOR ALL: Adoption of a Housing Action Plan to address unmet housing needs, including the development of 2,500 new affordable housing units by 2024. While the City has more than doubled its investment in homeless service programs, the shortage of affordable housing continues to be the greatest barrier to ending homelessness.
  • EMERGENCY SERVICES AND HOMELESS PREVENTION: Funds 276 year-round shelter beds, plus a 50-bed winter shelter program, a multi-service day center, and provides financial assistance with rent, security deposits and mortgage payments.
  • COMMUNITY-BASED SOLUTIONS: Established the Community Homeless Assistance Program (CHAP) that permits the use of private property (commercial or meeting facilities) for safe parking, safe camping, placement and maintenance of portable toilets, provision of temporary overnight shelter and storage for personal belongings.

Though we have had some successes, we are very much aware of the frustration still felt in the community related to this issue and want to invite you to join our efforts.

On May 24 at 4:00 pm, the City Council will hold the first of a series of Special Meetings planned over the next several months to address the homeless issue.This first meeting will be held at the City of Santa Rosa’s Utility Field Operations (UFO) Building,35 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa. If you are unable to attend in person, the meeting will be livestreamed and also videotaped so that you may view it at a time more convenient to you. Use this link to view the livestream on May 24, 2017 at 4:00 pm: https://santa-rosa.legistar.com/Page.aspx?M=W

I invite you to attend the May 24 meeting and other Special Council Meetings, to learn more about the City’s and County’s efforts, and what you can do to assist.

You can also share your concerns at any of the regularly scheduled meetings of the City Council which are held on most Tuesdays starting at 4 pm. You may share your thoughts with the entire City Council at any time by emailing citycouncil@srcity.org. And, finally, we invite you to visit www.srcity.org/HomelessSolutions for updates, information and specific things you can do to help reduce homelessness in our community. In lieu of handing out food, clothing or other items - which often have unintended consequences - opportunities exist to volunteer or make a donation to community organizations in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County that are working to end chronic homelessness.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. We know we have more work to do, and the City Council looks forward to the involvement of our entire community as we take on this serious issue.

Sincerely,

Chris Coursey,
Mayor, City of Santa Rosa

Link to the Housing First Strategy webpage :http://srcity.org/2352/Housing-First-Strategy-and-Work-Plan

Link to the Housing Action Plan: http://srcity.org/documentcenter/view/3981

Link to the City Council webpage: http://srcity.org/1322/City-Council

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