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Forum highlights homelessness in Sonoma County

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, right, speaks about her belief in offering aid to the homeless during Lost in Paradise: A Forum on Homelessness in Sonoma County at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa on Wednesday night. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, right, speaks about her belief in offering aid to the homeless during Lost in Paradise: A Forum on Homelessness in Sonoma County at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa on Wednesday night. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)


As the leader of a homeless services center — and former homeless drug user — Mike Johnson knows it’s crucial to have help available when someone wants to get off the streets.

But when a homeless person in Sonoma County says “I’m ready,” those services often aren’t there. There aren’t enough emergency beds, temporary living spaces or permanent affordable housing for the estimated 4,300 homeless residents.

“The bottleneck is both at the front end and at the back end,” said Johnson, the executive director of the Committee on the Shelterless, or COTS, in Petaluma.

Johnson was among several community leaders to participate in a panel discussion Wednesday night on the causes and impacts of homelessness in Sonoma County in a forum presented by The Press Democrat and Sonoma Magazine.

The “Shine A Light” discussion, before a packed house at the Glaser Center in downtown Santa Rosa, is the first of an occasional series of forums on community issues, Press Democrat Executive Editor Catherine Barnett said.

The forum was prompted by an illuminating Sonoma Magazine article, written by Press Democrat Staff Writer Jeremy Hay, that chronicled the lives of several young people living on the streets of Santa Rosa.

The experts discussed difficulties assisting the estimated 10,000 people who are homeless at some point in a given year in Sonoma County. A one-day census of the homeless population counted 4,280 homeless residents, 1,128 of whom were under age 24 and 277 under age 18.

The waiting list for housing at the COTS Mary Isaak Center in Petaluma is eight weeks, Johnson said.

The answer to a person in urgent need is: “Stand in line for two months. Sorry. We can’t help you for two months,” he said.

The picture is equally as dire on the other end of the continuum: Burbank Housing operates about 2,800 affordable housing units in Sonoma County. The waiting list is now at 7,400 applicants.

(Photos: Lost In Paradise: A Forum On Homelessness)

Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, spoke of a family who recently became homeless for the first time. The mother, father and their 14-year-old daughter are living in the family’s truck under the new “safe parking” program at the county fairgrounds, which allows as many as 50 vehicles on site this winter.

But, Holmes said, “We can do better than that.”

That sentiment was echoed by others on the panel, including Chuck Cornell, executive director of Burbank Housing, Matt Martin, the executive director of Social Advocates for Youth and Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane.

Acting Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder spoke of the combination of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness that leads to police intervention when it affects the quality of life of others.

“Contrary to popular belief, the police can’t solve homelessness and the jail is not a shelter,” he said.

Zane and Cornell advocated for more affordable housing units, while others urged “systems of care” that treat the causes of a person’s homelessness and support them through to permanent housing.

Shadowing the discussion was disagreement about SAY’s Dream Center in Bennett Valley, a controversial proposal to create a 63-bed transitional housing facility for homeless youths and those who have aged out of foster care.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

10 Responses to “Forum highlights homelessness in Sonoma County”

  1. bear says:

    All should be aware that I am “bear” and not that person posting about the Petaluma Safeway gas station.

    You know me, right?

    Even if the P-D doesn’t?

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  2. Francis says:

    After reading bear’s opinions for years, I am surprised he is still content to live here in the land of conservative oppression. Since the conservatives are responsible for all evil in the world, I wonder why he hasn’t bought a one way ticket to some communist paradise like Cuba or some little dictatorship in Africa.

    Me thinks he is very happy here in the land of socialist Sonoma County where are is rosy and good.

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  3. Jackson says:

    Government is always telling you not to feed the wildlife !

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. your are catching on says:

    I guess Bear has not heard of Conservative states that have unemployment of less than 2.5% and are among the highest in test scores. They are doing just fine. Lot’s of reservoirs, cheap power, tons of jobs. In fact you get over $18.00 hr. to work at Wall Mart because the energy sector is taking off.
    No, Bear is still asleep in his den, due to his public school education.

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  5. your are catching on says:

    Shirley Zane wants us to be one big homeless shelter. Welcome to Sonoma County where taxes are high, water is scarce, test scores are some of the lowest in the nation, and where we hate
    successful large companies, in my opinion.

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  6. David says:

    According to the “bear”, every problem in the word is caused by evil conservatives. It must be nice to live in a fairy tale world.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 5

  7. Papa ESoCo says:

    Hey, Steveguy, That is one of the most eloquent, thoughtful, and practical comments I have ever read. Your many points are quite valid, and, unfortunately would never fly. So sad!

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  8. bear says:

    Lets talk about housing first. Sure, the elected officials enact the rules, but who do you think they represent? The people who want them to go away.

    On the other hand, the homeless must be responsible for their lack of equal education, their lack of counseling for drug addiction or any other issue, the abysmal economic policies of the ruling class and everything else for which whining conservatives don’t want to take responsibility for anything.

    Except the $650 billion dollar/year “Defense budget.” Except the agriculture subsidies. Except the $6 trillion dollars we’ve spent on nuclear weapons, and the wars that couldn’t be won.

    Isn’t it nice that women get to vote but don’t have to register for the draft?

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  9. Steveguy says:

    I must rant, bear with me.

    Having met, known, helped out many homeless. ( The longer term local regulars) and know small business folks and employees that help when they can I do believe I can shed light on the total scam of our political parties.

    Affordable housing ? Who are you all kidding ? The shamefulness of not allowing cheap ” substandard” housing is a crime upon the less fortunate, a crime. There are many granny units, 2nd units, an outbuilding , etc that are fine and dandy for cheap living as far as rent goes. Wait until they annex Roseland and declare 1/3 of it “sub-standard”.. Really

    “Noooooo, says the code people, no living in cheap shelter “. Even though it happens in many parts of town and is perfectly fine.

    Oh wait ! Under the bridge is more desirable for the Homeless Industrial Complex. Or a corner of a park or by the freeway. They have a few ” approved ” rooms. Heck, they may get a closet and such but really they want to left the heck alone. ( self censored but wanted to type he!! )

    Yes, they may get their $850 a month Social Security or nothing and what does either get in the way of shelter ?
    Back in the day not long ago there were room and board for cheap– NOT ALLOWED now. When the dust bowl folks came out there were nice tent, cabin camps. Why are we so disgusted by that ? Why ? Or a trailer out back ? Why ? The extra $350-400 a month can help many others struggling and a ” paycheck away ” from the same fate.

    Oh wait ! We have $100 K plus a year folks and consultants paid bank ” studying the issue”.!!!! The solve is build multi-million dollar edifices to your myopic visions without a clue of what the ” clientele” want. With no funding, as that is taken up by high salaries and consultants.

    The most shameful ( besides our wounded vets ) is our view of termed out foster kids. Or the mildly mentally disabled. Hey folks ! They are NOT all mentally deranged, they are NOT all criminals, the are NOT all threats to your comfy life. You could NOT survive in their shoes.

    Hey Utopians– Look at the history of mankind and tell me that a certain percentage of the population doesn’t need cheap shelter. Just because it is 2013 doesn’t mean that cheap living for the less than able can pay your high prices.
    Santa Rosa sewer and water bill is $100 alone.. think about it. Afford that on a few hundred a month. And be unemployable. Stuck in a life with no real out, and they don’t get food stamps folks they get rides to food banks.

    Was this ” meeting” just a show of ” caring ” ? Of course. And money grubbers looking for high dollar salaries from high dollar grants. THAT is the game. Read it and weep. Many do

    We want to make a one size fits all grouping of very diverse needs. Most just need a cheap place to stay which is disallowed under the current rules and regulations. The ” do-gooders” tend to protect their high pay and benefits over the needs of the people. It seems to have become contagious amongst our politicians. Further and further from the people.

    These people for the most part are just money grabbers and dreamers. The Homeless Industrial Complex by making housing unaffordable on purpose !

    Please correct me where wrong, but don’t just cite some lame extreme example.

    Steve Mosher

    Oh my, that is a private citizen style solve. The new normal is government allowed only. Alas

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  10. Nancy says:

    All of the handwringing, talking and meetings around the homeless has had no impact on the issue. The problems continues to grow.

    Time to realized the homeless can only help themselves by taking personal responsibility. Society is not responsibility for their problems. They are and they need to face those facts.

    The mentally ill can be treated, the homeless youth offered a shelter, but in the end it is up to the individual to deal with their own issues and lifestyle.

    Laws need to be enforced so the public do not feel threaten by begging, drunks and lying on sidewalks and benches.

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