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August 5, 2021
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Rohnert Park City Council addresses Homelessness

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
April 16, 2021

The Rohnert Park City Council held an extensive special meeting on April 6. The purpose of the meeting was to explore options for two council priorities. The two agenda items were not action items at this time; rather, both were designed for discussion and to provide direction to staff for future action. The first was regarding a potential alternative response model to Mental Health/Crisis Calls for service, and homelessness issues not requiring a Law Enforcement response. The other item was on options for expanding the City’s Homeless Services.

For the first item, City Manager Darrin Jenkins and Public Safety Director Tim Mattos introduced a possible alternative to police/fire rescue response to mental health crisis and homelessness service calls. They’ve been looking at various models used elsewhere. This report was in response to city council strategic priorities established back in January 2021 which included Police/Community relations. According to the staff report, “Officers are continually called upon to respond to individuals suffering from mental health issues and other crisis related incidents that require mental health professionals.” The model they discussed was CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets).

Ben Adam Climer, owner of CRISIS Consulting, then presented this program to the council. He currently is consulting with the City of Petaluma as they too look at adopting this model. He is an expert on the model based on his experience working as an EMT in a CAHOOTS response van and later with the management of the program. This program originated in Eugene, OR in 1989 and has been successful in reducing police response to these types of service calls. 

The program uses two-person teams that staff a response van. The team consists of a medical member such as a medic, nurse, or EMT, and a crisis worker who has substantial training and experience in the mental health field. Responses are to welfare checks, suicide threatened medical issues which helps avoid costly ambulance transport and emergency room treatment.

The council directed staff to move forward and explore potential partnerships with Cotati and other neighboring cities but stressed the desire that any such program has a CAHOOTS van stationed in Rohnert Park. The staff will look at costs and make a recommendation to the council soon with the hope to have one van, staffing for two-person teams working 12-hour shifts. They would be dispatched on calls coming into the 911 and non-emergency Public Safety phone lines. The goal is to reduce police response to these situations by at least 8-10%. They would also be available when officers call them in after an assessment that the situation is non-violent and does not require a Law Enforcement response.

Jenna Garcia, the City’s Housing Administrator, then provided an extensive overview of options available to the city to reduce or eliminate homelessness in Rohnert Park. This was also a strategic priority for the council. After her presentation, the council provided staff direction on which options they did or did not want to pursue. The direction was twofold. One was direction about continuing programs already in place to address this issue while the other was to explore expanded or new options aimed at ending homelessness in Rohnert Park. There were 17 items discussed although the staff did not recommend pursuing some of them. Action items will be presented at future council meetings. 

In summary, the staff direction was to not pursue a Prevention Services Hub or an Eviction Prevention program primarily because it would be a duplicate effort to other programs in the county being funded by the State and Federal governments. It was also not to explore an Outreach Day Center or Congregate /Non-congregate Shelter. They too are already available in Santa Rosa and Petaluma and are extremely expensive to set-up and operate. For continuing services, the council agreed with staff recommendations to continue supporting the Homelessness Roundtable and their volunteers; engaging in regional efforts; and to keep funding the SHARE program to help in finding room rentals for the unsheltered.

They also directed staff to explore options for increased funding for mobile outreach, options for a volunteer based safe parking program, development of a by-name list and program, options to convert existing properties to be used as supportive housing, potentially obtaining a limited number of rooms at converted hotels/motels such as the Gold Coin Motel or the Commons project in Santa Rosa, options to fund a flexible rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing master-lease blended program and a Coordinated Entry Access Point. They also supported efforts to build new housing and development to possibly include tiny homes for the unsheltered. The most definitive new action was their intent to create a Homelessness Service Position on city staff to coordinate these efforts and to fund the local Unsheltered Friends Outreach group for $3,000 per month “so they can continue their good works.”