Peter never imagined that he would become homeless. For most of his life, he had a home and a good job. However, after a series of challenging life circumstances, he started gambling and using alcohol. He lost his home, his job, his car and even his wallet. When the COTS outreach specialist first met him living on the streets of Rohnert Park, he was despondent and hopeless. After multiple interactions, Peter agreed to take one of the Rohnert Park-funded beds in COTS’ Petaluma homeless shelter. He started putting his life back together, got a job and last month, moved out of the shelter and into a room he is now renting on his own. People who have seen Peter recently describe him as having “the light back in his eyes.”
Although everyone’s story looks different, Peter’s is representative of what many people experiencing homelessness report. A series of unfortunate events takes them from working and a place to live to homelessness. We collaborate with COTS, a homeless service nonprofit, to provide supportive services to people experiencing homelessness in Rohnert Park. A dedicated street outreach specialist supports homeless individuals camping or living in their vehicles in Rohnert Park and connects them with resources. Starting October 1, we began funding a pilot program in COTS’ Petaluma shelter that provides 12 shelter beds for homeless individuals from Rohnert Park. For the last year and a half, the city has funded a Rapid Rehousing program, which provides households experiencing homelessness short-term rental assistance and supports to help them get back into a home of their own. Together, these programs have already served over 200 people.
We are continuing to clean up homeless encampments that pose health and safety risks to the community, working within the limits of the law to protect the community while respecting the rights of everyone. It is legal in California for people to sleep in vehicles or camp on public property (although one cannot block sidewalks or create health or safety risks). Since July, we have conducted clean-ups of 25 encampments that posed health and safety risks on city-owned property. We have also assisted private property owners in addressing trespassing on their property.
Even with these efforts, homelessness is a challenging, complex issue that the city cannot solve alone.
We need the community’s support. That is why we have also convened the Homelessness Roundtable – a place for residents and business leaders interested in taking action to work together to address the challenges. The Roundtable has active small groups focused on a variety of topics including youth and children, data, safe parking, food and supplies and creating a resource guide. The group usually meets the first Mon. of the month 4-6 p.m. and is open to anyone from the community that wants to help address homelessness in our community. More information on the Roundtable and homelessness is available on the city’s website: www.rpcity.org/homelessness.