The 200+ residents of Joe Rodota Trail, Santa Rosa, were evicted this week. Felt like a tragic consequence of putting the poor last, never offering enough to make life good. So we worked with DSA North Bay (Democratic Socialists) and made enough breakfast burritos for nearly all the campers on site, plus sandwiches, muffins, coffee, donuts. A good gesture caught by TV cameras. Was pleased to note CNN, NBC/Telemundo, Press Democrat, SF Chron on the scene. A big deal: largest encampment in Sonoma County. How would the homeless be treated?
“We protest because 96% of the world’s countries have a longer life expectancy than the average homeless person in Sonoma County,” said Merlin Davis with Democratic Socialists of America.
Our friends agree humans deserve a roof, shelter, food, water, yet around the globe and even in the relative paradise of Sonoma County, homelessness is on a precipitous rise with no clear solution agreed upon. Upwards of 3,000 Sonoma County people are homeless, some victims of fire; most victims of not enough or no paycheck. So we joined with North Bay DSA members to feed those about to be evicted and protest the lack of affordable housing in our county.
There were county workers on site, talking with campers, offering social services – but while the county offered housing for 60, that is just 1/3rd of the number on site and not much help to the other 2040 homeless people in our county.
While a Sonoma County ordinance says people cannot be evicted without a place to go, what is on offer is 60 units and a promise of more “soon”.
Finding homes the homeless isn’t a snap of the finger. Ask Petaluma’s COTS workers; ask a homeless person. Newly formed Sonoma County Tenants Union (SCTU) gives out Right to a Roof stickers and one just got found its place on our Prius.
After numerous complaints about noise, fires, rats, our county chose to evict homeless people camped along the 8+ mile Joe Rodota Trail, offering an abandoned juvenile detention center with 60 tiny rooms, showers and storage for stuff but that just deals with about 1/3rd of trail campers, many wandering off to other outdoor locations and downtown camping.
We made signs including a banner, DECRIMINALIZE HOMELESSNESS, Tues. morning, expecting a police routing of the hapless homeless, but only one police car drove by – and didn’t stop. That wasn’t the game plan, it seems. The court ordered the camp to be cleared by Friday and county workers were taking careful steps in that direction, offering to haul away old rugs, broken bikes and electronics, all the stuff people living on the ground didn’t really need or were willing to let go of. I noted a huge stuffed panda bear atop the collection truck, a touch of warmth.
Making breakfast burritos and with DSA members was fun and the food was eagerly received (one woman said she hadn’t eaten in two days). Our Oasis Community barn was a small assembly line Tues. night, cranking out breakfast plus protest signs and the DECRMINIALIZE HOMELESSNESS banner. We handed out breakfast to folks camped on the Trail just as the news told us they would be evicted to a facility 8 miles from downtown Santa Rosa, with acurfew, and no one who’s had a drink can stay. An internment camp? And temporary?
We know the county is trying to be compassionate; we saw no police surge, no homeless people pinned to the sidewalk. Counselors at tables talked to campers – do you have a need for social services?
Still, the Big Question is how do we deal with homelessness as the crisis esalates? I hear “public housing” and I recall the Projects in big cities, first seen as a great idea, then as a sort of trap from which residents want to but often never escape. I also think of our subsidized Burbank housing, each Section 8 house near a big tree or pocket park so low-income housing can appear to be a sort of village and no child is without a tree. Those are great – but how many are available and where does the subsidy come in?
Two information tables were set up at the trail head near the Goodwill Store in Roseland. County workers came during the day to talk with folks, see who needs what social service. I noted two women sitting with counselors, one weeping openly. Wanted to know her story but was glad for a person listening.
So I’m not angry at the county for trying to take care of what it sees as its messy encampment. The trail is supposed to be for strolling and its a wonderful walk! But we haven’t got to that place where our homeless neighbors are at peace or in real shelter and we need to do that. A favorite new bumper sticker from American Friends: Love Thy Neighbor; No Exceptions!
Many “developed”counties do way better than we do with homelessness, offering housing to whoever needs it. That’s the rumor; want now to know the truth. Truth being we live in a throw away culture, and these people have been tossed aside when the jobs were handed out, when there was some stability. They don’t have it, they need a place to be and something to do and something to give meaning to life beyond finding breakfast.
Many have called for the Fairgrounds to be opened to homeless people. They sheltered a whole lot of folks during the fires of the last few years. Could be done. Why not?
At least we can show up, bring some food, look for better options than camps, believing A Roof is a Human Right. Thank you, Sonoma County Tenants Union for the sticker!
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