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Russian River Community Advocates: Just the Numbers


Russian River Community Advocates: Just the Numbers

Homelessness is a very complex and difficult problem that we would all like to be able to fix, though we can seldom agree on the solution(s).  Some people believe the solution lies in helping more, while others think we need to get tougher and help less.  I think in order for us to solve a problem, it’s important for us to know what the actual facts are first.  I thought a good way to start our learning process is to try and take the emotion out of the discussion, and just start with some verifiable factual statistical information.  

I’ve heard people say a number of times that homelessness is a “problem everywhere”.  While that is obviously true, it’s a vague statement which tends to leave the impression that our problem in the Lower River Area is not any more significant than anywhere else. I’ve also heard people say that we have four times per capita the homeless population of San Francisco, while others say that number is specific to the entire county of Sonoma.  So, what is true and what isn’t?  

The data sources I have used are primarily the 2015-2016 US Census population statistics,, and the HUD Point-In-Time Homeless Counts for 2015-2016.

A couple of important things to note are that the 2016 Sonoma County Point-In-Time Homeless Count report (see link below for the downloadable report, then page 17 for statistics cited) does not break down the “West County” area beyond Sebastopol and all areas that are not Sebastopol. I did inquire as to whether there were any more specific statistics for the “West County” The best breakdown the Sonoma County CDC could provide was 78 homeless counted in Monte Rio, 68 in Guerneville, Pocket Canyon 7, Forestville 1, and Occidental/Bodega Bay 2. The total population of 6,200+/- for the Lower River Area used above includes Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Rio Nido, and is rounded. Regardless, if a conservative number of 150 homeless people were used to calculate the percentage above for the Lower River Area as I have defined it, the result would be 2.5%. That is still two and a half times more than the next most affected area of Santa Rosa, and slightly more than three times the population of homeless per capita for San Francisco. The national per capita homelessness rate is 0.16%, making Sonoma County about three times the national rate, and the Lower River Area about 15-20 times the national rate.

Both Santa Rosa and San Francisco are large city centers that have 24 hour emergency medical services and fleets of ambulances available. They have detox and detention facilities, large police and fire departments, and adequate buildings/locations available for emergency shelters and homeless housing projects. The Lower River Area is the smallest and most remote population within the 10 areas of Sonoma County considered above. 25% of our fire department calls are homeless related calls. We have one ambulance to serve our community, and a round-trip to the nearest emergency room takes our only ambulance out of service for at least two hours. Lt. Molinari, who oversees the Sheriff’s Guerneville Sub-Station, stated “From approximately 07/29/16 to 12/15/16 the River Sub Station deputies responded to 265* calls for service that ended up being homeless related. *This doesn’t include every contact we have that could be categorized as a homeless related incident. So the stats are probably higher.” Per Sgt. Salas, who has been assigned to the Guerneville Sub-Station for many years, the sheriff’s deputies spend a considerable amount of time and resources driving homeless folks to Santa Rosa for the services their particular situation may require.  

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 (Monte Rio) FB pages. You can also contact Mark Emmett at 707-529-0534 (Guerneville) or Chuck Ramsey at 707-239-1639 (Monte Rio).