Homelessness Project

9/24/2021 Update on homelessness

On September 14, the City Council held a special meeting to consider adding housing for those experiencing homelessness in Rohnert Park. The City Council directed staff to look into options to acquire a hotel or to add modular units to City-owned properties located along Rohnert Park Expressway on the far west side of the City and near Labath and Martin. The Council also discussed possible permanent housing and interim housing at a site owned by Providence St Joseph Health on Medical Center Drive.

Today, Providence Health informed us that they do not plan to pursue interim housing in Rohnert Park. This would have been modular units operated as short-term housing. Providence is considering building a 74 unit apartment complex on the vacant lot to the southwest of their medical center. This would provide permanent housing to formerly homeless seniors. In the coming months, Providence will meet with neighbors of this site to provide details and solicit input.

Those experiencing homelessness are already in our community. The encampments that pop up cause health and safety issues for the community, disrupt businesses, pollute waterways and litter our community. 88% of those experiencing homelessness in Sonoma County are from here; 64% have been here at least ten years. Federal Court orders prevent the City from simply forcing people to leave public property or go to other communities.

The need to house unsheltered individuals is acute – as much for them as for the rest of the community. The State has made an unprecedented $3.5 billion available through their Homekey program to provide interim and permanent housing for homeless individuals. These are the funds that the City is considering to apply for to add housing for those experiencing homelessness. The City Council will receive an update on the status of these efforts at its September 28th meeting, which starts at 5:00pm at City Hall. Residents are invited to attend the meeting or to view it via the City’s website or Channel 26, and to provide comments in person or at publiccomment@rpcity.org.

Rohnert Park is working closely with community organizations, government agencies and experts in the homeless services field to address and ultimately end homelessness in our City. The City Council identified homelessness as a top priority in January 2021 and has dedicated $1.3 million in Fiscal Year 2021-2022 to fund solutions to this pressing issue. Read on to learn more about the interventions Rohnert Park has implemented.

Encampment Response
The health and safety of our residents, sheltered and unsheltered, is our highest priority. Encampments often create health and safety risks for the community and for the individuals living in them. When that occurs, or when an encampment interferes with the public’s use of public property, creates risks of imminent injury or property damage, or has criminal activity or aggressive behavior from those living in them, the City will clean up the encampment. This includes removal of materials, pruning trees and vegetation, and sorting and storing any valuable items. Our practice includes trying to link those in encampments to services through Catholic Charities Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) as a first step when we come across encampments.

Homeless Outreach
Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST)

This fiscal year, the City is providing $127,335 to Catholic Charities to fund outreach services to individuals experiencing homelessness in Rohnert Park. A dedicated team of three skilled outreach workers from the Catholic Charities Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) are in the field in Rohnert Park four days per week providing services to unsheltered individuals. These services include connecting individuals with housing options, accessing shelter, obtaining government identification, increasing income, connecting with medical, mental health and substance use services, and meeting some of their basic needs. HOST outreach workers engage with unsheltered individuals in various settings including encampments, vehicles, and service hubs like the weekly mobile shower program.

Unsheltered Friends Outreach (UFO)
Unsheltered Friends Outreach (UFO) was started by two Rohnert Park residents who wanted to help their unsheltered fellow community members. What began as an ad hoc volunteer group operating entirely with donated goods and funds has become a volunteer-led non-profit organization partnering with the city to meet the basic survival needs of individuals experiencing homelessness in Rohnert Park. This Fiscal Year the City is providing $36,000 to UFO to fund these survival services including providing meals, clothing, toiletries and a weekly mobile shower program. UFO also collaborates closely with HOST and other local homeless service providers to connect homeless individuals to housing and shelter options. 

By-Name List
The City is currently developing a By-Name List (BNL) to track and identify the needs of each individual experiencing homelessness in Rohnert Park. In addition to tracking the changing composition and needs of Rohnert Park’s unsheltered citizens in real time, this list will also help us prioritize those with higher needs for supportive services and permanent housing opportunities. Though the list will focus on Rohnert Park, it is part of a larger regional effort to better track the needs of homeless individuals in Sonoma County across systems of care and to develop permanent housing solutions tailored to the needs of each individual.

Permanent Housing
Catholic Charities - Rapid Re-Housing & Master Lease

The City is providing $433,224 this fiscal year to Catholic Charities to operate a Rapid Re-housing program, which provides financial assistance and support to help people experiencing homelessness get back into a home of their own. Catholic Charities will also ‘master lease’ several units to provide housing for individuals with higher needs who may not qualify for an apartment on their own due to issues such as poor credit or lack of housing history. Financial assistance can include security deposit, portion of monthly rent for an average of six months, and assistance paying for utilities. Supports include assistance with budgeting and increasing income, and educating on landlord-tenant rights and responsibilities. 

SHARE Sonoma County – Affordable Shared Housing
The City is providing $150,000 this fiscal year to SHARE Sonoma County to match home-seekers who are either homeless or at-risk of homelessness with home-providers who have an extra room in their house. Support is provided to both parties for the duration of their living arrangement. SHARE also creates other affordable permanent housing opportunities for individuals through their shared “Community Homes.” These homes provide housing opportunities to individuals are unable to qualify for an apartment on their own due to barriers like low income or poor credit.

Working with Property Owners
The City is providing suggestions to owners of private property, particularly businesses with large parking lots, on how they can address homelessness on their properties. Trespassing laws can be difficult to enforce.

Enforcing Parking Restrictions
The City has established and enforces restrictions on overnight parking in several locations, including our parks. We also enforce the requirement that vehicles not be parked on public streets for more than 72 consecutive hours in the same location.

Homelessness Roundtable
The City convenes a monthly meeting to engage community members who want to be part of the solution to homeless in Rohnert Park. Learn more about the Homelessness Roundtable here.

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