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Sonoma County Gazette

River Community Advocates by Jennifer Wertz and Mark Emmett - July 2017

Jun 30, 2017


Help Wanted, Help Needed!

On Tuesday June 13, 2017, the Guerneville Community Alliance attended the Board of Supervisors’ budget hearings in Santa Rosa. Among other things, we presented a Lower River Community Workforce Fund grant proposal request, in an effort to establish an emergency relief fund for our Lower River Area service and hospitality industry workers. The intent of the Lower River Community Workforce fund is to establish a $50,000 per fiscal year emergency relief fund for struggling hospitality and service industry workers in the Lower Russian River Area, to try and help prevent future homelessness, and to maintain a thriving tourism based economy. The funds would be distributed through our established all volunteer local non-profit organization, with no overhead or administrative expenses. 100% of the funds would be used as emergency relief for rent, rental housing deposits, utilities, and/or food for local service and hospitality industry workers who meet the minimum established criteria. The goal is to prevent local workers who are contributing to our community and our economy from becoming our future homeless, thus becoming an expensive moral and financial burden on our community and our available resources.

A significant amount of our time and effort has been focused on our local homeless problem. We can certainly all agree that homelessness is a very complicated and difficult problem to try and solve after the fact.   We have identified that our local workforce struggles with affordable housing issues in relation to the local prevailing wages for service and hospitality industry workers. We feel that one of the most significant contributions we could make to our community is to re-direct some of our effort and resources toward supporting our local workforce and preventing future homelessness.  

The CDC’s 2017-2018 fiscal year budget statement states that among their objectives is to engage community partners in efforts to strengthen the social safety net and alleviate the causes and conditions of homelessness, and to ensure maximum leverage of scarce public resources. According to CDC’s Russian River Area Shelter Services Project Information published April 27, 2017, the Board set aside $1.502 million for a homeless service center project that would have 25-35 shelter beds. The cost of our Lower River Community Workforce Fund proposal to prevent people from becoming homeless is a mere 3.3% of that cost, and is estimated to prevent the same or more people from becoming homeless in the first place. In addition to the actual service center cost, there are many other additional costs associated after people become homeless that are not even being considered in this equation.

The 5th District generates approximately $6.4 million annually, or about 44% of all of the TOT tax collected throughout all of Sonoma County. This revenue is earned by the labor of the service and hospitality industry workers and their employers. Many local businesses are having difficulty recruiting and retaining workers. Workers are unable to afford to live in the area where the rents range from approximately $1,200 - $3,000 month, while minimum wage is $10.50 per hour (approximately $1,500 a month take home for a full-time worker). The seasonal nature of most service and hospitality industry jobs creates additional difficulties for these workers in the offseason. The area’s largest employer reduces employees’ hours to 24 hours a week in the off-season for example (approximately $900 a month take home for a minimum wage worker). Many of the local service and hospitality industry workers work 2-3 jobs, share housing, don’t have cars, and are forced to use food stamps to be able to afford food. These workers are trying to make their own way and are not typically causing any problems in our community. The requested grant represents less than 1% of the TOT tax generated be given back to the workers that generate it, to prevent them from becoming homeless and thus a huge burden on the community and the “scarce public resources” available.

The few other available programs within Sonoma County are not specific to helping service and hospital industry workers, and are not specific to the Lower Russian River Area. Some exclude adults without children that are not disabled, elderly, or veterans.

On Wednesday June 14, 2017, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) earmarked $1m to be used by the Community Development Commission (CDC) for Russian River Homeless services. The CDC is expected to develop a plan on how that money should be spent and present it to the BOS at a later date for approval. We are waiting to see if they approve our grant proposal as a part of that plan. If you are in favor of establishing an emergency relief fund to prevent our local service and hospitality industry workers from becoming homeless, please reach out to the director of the CDC and our BOS and let them know you would like them to approve our grant request to spend a very small amount of our money on homelessness prevention for the workers who’s hard work generates the revenue in the first,,,,,

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).


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