We know from our Community Survey that homelessness is one of the top concerns for our residents. I’d like to provide some background information and let you know what we’re doing to address it.
To provide some context – each year the county coordinates a count of those experiencing homelessness on one night in Jan. The last count for which we have information was in 2018. It found nearly 3,000 people that night (including 138 in Rohnert Park), down from about 4,000 seven years ago. The total of 3,000 was up slightly from 2017, likely due to the loss of housing from the firestorms. The number of people experiencing homeless over the course of a year is likely higher. Still, the downward trend over the years is encouraging.
Additionally, people experiencing homelessness typically fall into three categories. The “Have Nots” are those who want housing and are able to live on their own, but need some assistance to get into housing. This can include short-term financial help, assistance in cleaning up bad credit and help in identifying housing. This is the largest group of individuals experiencing homelessness.
The “Can Nots” are those who want housing but are unable to live on their own due to challenges such as addiction or mental health issues. Rohnert Park hosts Vida Nueva, a small apartment complex that provides counseling and other services for individuals and in some cases families. We have recently participated in efforts to add 170 new places for the “Can Nots” across the county.
The third category, the “Will Nots,” are those that choose to remain homeless even when offered housing.
The city has been actively responding, focused on a “Housing First” approach. This strategy emphasizes finding housing for those experiencing homelessness, either short term such as shelters or longer-term in apartment or houses.
One example of our response is funding a Rapid Rehousing program with the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), a non-profit based in Petaluma that addresses homelessness. Since July of last year, this program has helped 70 individuals, including 25 children, become housed by providing financial and other assistance. COTS has found that over 80 percent of those served by these efforts do not become homeless again for at least five years and often never again become homeless.
Additionally, we are working closely with COTS on outreach to the homeless. A COTS Outreach Specialist has contacted over 140 individuals experiencing homeless in three months. She connects them to housing and other services that they need. She and city staff have also worked with them to clean up encampments and dispose of trash and we will soon do the same at an encampment by Redwood Dr. near Walmart.
We are making other efforts as well. A recent court case requires cities to find shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness before we can enforce our rules against camping. We are working with COTS and Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa to explore options such as reserving beds in shelters in Petaluma and Santa Rosa.
One thing that residents can do is to not give money to panhandlers. Our partners at COTS tell us that panhandlers make up to $100 per day and that most of the money is used to buy drugs and alcohol. We prefer to connect those experiencing homelessness with services that can help them improve their lives.
Homeless is a major challenge for many cities. A recent study found that addressing it fully in the Bay Area would cost $12 billion; Rohnert Park’s share would be $56 million. That is more than we spend each year on police, fire, recreation programs, maintaining parks, paths and facilities and many other services combined. Nonetheless, we are taking action and exploring other options as well.
Mark your calendar. Come join in the 10-year anniversary kick-off event of Party On the Plaza & Farmers’ Market on Fri., June 7 from 5-10 p.m. See full Party On the Plaza entertainment lineup below.
Jun 14 Blues Mothers: All Female Blues Brothers Tribute
Jun 21HOTS: Driving Rock
Jun 28 Choppin Broccoli: 80s Tribute
Jul 5 NO MARKET | Independence Day Weekend
Jul 12 Soul Section: Rock & Soul Horn Band
Jul 19 Dirty Cello: Female led rock/blues/bluegrass Cello
Jul 26 Rock & Roll Rhythm Review: Female led Rock, Jump Blues & Rockabilly
Aug 2 Levi Lloyd & Friends: Rockin Blues
Aug 9 Country Night | Third Rail: Female led New & Old Country
Aug 16 Igniters: Classic Rock
Aug 23 Reggae Night | Un Amour Bank: Positive Reggae
Aug 30 Poyntlyss Sistars: Female Led 50s – 90s Dance Music