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May 24, 2019
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Homelessness spikes in RP

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
April 19, 2019

There was a markable jump in homelessness within Rohnert Park last year, according to an update to the Rohnert Park City Council at their Tues., April 16 meeting. 

In 2018 the city estimated that there were 138 people sleeping on the streets and in creeks within city limits. That’s a 60 percent jump over the 84 people the city returned with from the same study performed back in 2017. To be fair, however, it must be mentioned that the study is far from conclusive; those numbers are a snapshots of sorts, where researchers count the number of homeless they find on a single night. 

Over the course of weeks or even days the number can fluctuate, which means it’s little more than an estimate. Still, as far as estimates go, it paints a bleak picture, and the fact that Rohnert Park has the single largest unsheltered homeless population with the county, 90 percent, does little to improve it. 

Yet there’s some light on the horizon. California’s state government allotted $12 million in 2019 and 2020 for homeless services within Sonoma County. It’s a substantial sum of money, but the problem for Rohnert Park is how the city might get a piece of the pie. 

“Historically the funding has been available for the county, but the allocations were made by the service providers. The process wasn’t pretty and we’ll leave it at that,” Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz said. “Rohnert Park ended pretty significantly under served. (...) [Sonoma County] looks at it as this flyover territory. There’s a sense that Rohnert Park can go north to Santa Rosa or south to Petaluma, but we don’t need anything here.”

That’s where COTS comes in. COTS is a Petaluma based nonprofit that aims to bring about the end of homelessness within Sonoma County. It’s a lofty goal, but within Rohnert Park, COTS is already off to a strong start. 

In July of 2018 the Rohnert Park City Council budgeted $250 thousand with the goal of housing 53 people within twelve months. In March of this year, three months early, they accomplished that goal, with COTS’ help, when they housed 22 families with a total of 35 adults and 18 children. And that number isn’t set to erode, either. COTS has an 85 percent success rate over the course of five years in keeping people off the streets. 

It’s not an easy thing to house people. Many of society’s most unfortunate suffer from psychiatric and addiction issues that make it difficult to find help. Those problems, and an endemic pattern of hostility on the part of many governments, mean that many homeless are distrustful of organizations that claim to be out to help them. According to COTS Outreach Representative Randy Clay, the greatest challenge in providing support is convincing the homeless that they’re there to help. 

“What you want to get them to do is trust the system,” Clay said. “That is one of the biggest issues. People think that just because you throw finances at a problem that they’re just going to flock to it. That’s not how it works. What you got to figure how to do is create that rapport—not everyone fits in one basket.”

Luckily, Rohnert Park has a new weapon in its arsenal: Cecily Kagy, outreach specialist.

In the short time that Kagy has worked with the city, she’s made contact with 136 of the estimated 138 homeless within the city. She meets with them wherever she can, whether that be on the street, along the creeks, or in a coffee shop. Every morning Cecily meets as many as will see her at the Starbucks in the Target Shopping Center along the Rohnert Park Expressway. 

“I’m going to do whatever it takes to draw them in. It comes out of my pocket,” Kagy said. “It’s about building something that works. When someone comes behind me and does the job—they can do it. It’s smooth. Because it’s not smooth when you’re out there with the clientele.”