By D. KaLane Raposa
June 15, 2022
Dear Catholic Charities: If you can see what is true, I pray that you will own whatever part is yours to own. I’m not naive nor living in a perpetual state of victim mentality. This issue isn’t one- sided. The unhoused have our fair share of things we need to own as well. I am quick to point this out to the homeless I still work with in my own independent outreach. But perhaps if we could find a way to work together in a more loving, patient, compassionate and understanding way towards reconciliation with an absence of pretense or defense we can all rise together as an example of hope to those who might otherwise have none.
I’m writing this grievance regarding the current state of the Palms Inn in Santa Rosa. I have been a resident here for the past eight years. When I first moved in, the Palms was teeming with life. You could not throw a stone without hitting a staff member or volunteer. It wasn’t uncommon to see the media and local politicians here for fundraisers or to see Jennielynn Holmes, Catholic Charities’ Chief Programs Officer, walking a group of potential investors through on a tour. A continental breakfast was available daily in the library and at least once a week, sometimes twice, volunteers would come and prepare a hot breakfast for the residents. There were regular activity groups, AA and NA meetings as well as classes and workshops that residents could attend. We had a library/TV room that was open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with WiFi and an amazing selection of books and DVDs that residents could check out for free. There were barbecues and special events. But most important, we had a sense of community.
Although it was still in its infancy stage, the Palms was on its way to becoming one of the most impressive Housing First/Permanent Supportive Housing proof of concept models one could hope for. But then the newness wore off and the media disappeared. As did the local politicians. Gone were the investor tours with Holmes.
Then, one by one key staff members who were as much the heart and soul of this community as the residents began seeking employment elsewhere. In my experience that’s usually indicative of internal conflicts with upper management. The volunteers and hot breakfasts faded away. The groups and classes became mere memories. Access to the library, WiFi and DVDs were restricted while the lobby and access to personal mailboxes were limited to two hours a day or on some days not at all.
The Palms Inn began to feel like a ghost town. With the absence of staff and volunteers out and about on the premises, dark elements began creeping in. While Covid-19 has certainly exacerbated matters, all of the aforementioned predate the pandemic. Over three years ago I saw an increase in foot traffic. I pointed it out to my case manager. He responded by telling me that should be my motivation to move. There was no conversation about making things safe for residents or addressing the issues.
Move. That was his solution. His answer felt indicative of the current case managers’ overall sentiments regarding the Palms.
Unfortunately, the Palms is probably as good as it’s going to get for people like me. Prior to coming here I had just finished serving 19 years in prison. The nearly 20- year gap in my rental and employment history combined with a poor credit rating and a low, unskilled earning potential preclude me from realistically competing in the housing market in any meaningful way. Even if I could move, I wouldn’t want to.
I was 48 years old when I moved into the Palms. It is the first time in my life I have ever lived alone in my own place, had a lease in my name and paid rent regularly. Having been incarcerated for nearly half of my life I have no real history to speak of.
Thus, I am very sentimental about the history I am creating. The Palms represents something very special to me. It’s a huge milestone of sorts. Sadly, the Palms I moved into is not the Palms I reside in today.
I don’t think people realize how dire the situation has become here or the extent to which the chaos has grown. Fentanyl, methamphetamine and stolen property are easily procured. There is now continuous foot traffic at all hours of the day and night.
From approximately 10 pm until dawn, trespassers control the environment here at the Palms. Politely asking them if they would mind getting high and carrying on their conversation somewhere other than in front of your door is seldom met with an equal measure of politeness or respect. There are arguments down in the parking lot, boyfriends and girlfriends fighting over the last hit of dope and a growing presence of gang members who recently tagged the building.
Theft and prostitution are also running rampant. Fear and intimidation systematically silence people. Catholic Charities staff members have openly admitted that they do not feel safe here after dark. Fortunately for them they get to go home. But this IS my home. I and many others have no place else to go. Can you imagine what it might feel like to be a single woman or a senior citizen listening to the parade of drug
seekers traipsing about all night long or worse, getting loaded right outside your door as you sit and listen on the other side, too afraid to say something to them, too afraid to call police. People yelling and screaming. Angry addicts with unpredictable behavior loitering near your door. Would you want someone you care about living under these conditions? How safe would you feel?
There was a time when a resident could call the front desk to report an intruder or other suspicious activities and staff would respond immediately. We are now directed to call the security company instead. But the security company avails little help to remedy the situation. A two-minute drive through the parking lot once an hour is virtually useless. Personnel rarely, if ever, get out of their vehicles and walk the premises. And when they do drive by trespassers they don’t say a word to them. Other trespassers just hide, waiting for them to pass by. Some hang out on the second-floor landing of the middle stairwell where they continually break, steal or untwist the light bulbs to keep it perpetually dark. On more than one occasion, staff has watched me get into near scuffles with my baseball bat trying to get trespassers off the property. They offered absolutely no support or assistance whatsoever.
When Burbank Housing took over the property management, the politics of that takeover became evident to anyone who was paying attention. It would have been nice to have seen Catholic Charities partner in a coordinated effort with Burbank Housing, the two organizations working in concert to clean up the Palms for the safety and well being of the residents. But rather than increase support, Catholic Charities withdrew support and staff was instructed to stop running trespassers off the property, that it was Burbank’s job now, not yours.
When this news got out it spread like wildfire. Now, people walk up here in broad daylight right past staff and engage in activities once relegated to dark shadows and late hours. For my efforts in attempting to keep trespassers from hanging out in front of my door and my 63-year-old female neighbor, I’ve been accosted twice off property by people that staff should have been confronting, not me. By withdrawing support, not only was our safety jeopardized but our health was as well. Ninety percent of the trespassers came without Covid masks. Staff didn’t even bother to address the trespassers on that issue. They let them walk in here without masks and never say a word to them.
Regardless of who was tasked with the actual management of the property, Catholic Charities has maintained its contract to provide services to residents. As such I would think Catholic Charities would assume at the very least, a moral obligation to help provide a safe and healthy environment for their clients. The irony here is that the VI- SPDAT Vulnerability Assessment has identified each of us as being the most vulnerable among the homeless population but we have been left to fend for ourselves in a dark, isolated part of town amid the very elements you sought to keep us safe from. This problem has been growing for over two years now and has finally reached a critical point. And still, nothing is being done about it. Because Catholic Charities has senior citizen clients residing here, elder abuse allegations would not be difficult to prove. For those under 65, an equally strong argument can be made for reckless endangerment and criminal negligence. By continuing to do nothing, Catholic Charities is by proxy participating in the victimization its own clients.
Over the past three years there has been a growing complacency and neglect of clients at the Palms. In the addendum to this grievance there are examples of some of the incomprehensible actions that Catholic Charities has taken against its clients here and at the drop-in center.
For years, clients have been complaining about the same improprieties and practices but their grievances always seem to fall on deaf ears. Employees are given the benefit of every doubt and clients are systematically discredited. The grievance committee is hardly an impartial panel when it’s made up entirely of your own employees. The homeless see all of this. Stories like those in the addendum are passed on through word of mouth throughout the homeless community. The majority of the chronically homeless aren’t resistant to services. They are declining services because they are unwilling to repeat the same previous bad experiences they’ve already had with Catholic Charities.
Rather than owning your part in that experience, the unhoused are branded as ‘Resistive to Services’ and we end up carrying the water for your inability to provide adequate support and services. That’s exactly what is happening here at the Palms.
None of the five core principles of Housing First are functioning here with any measure of consistency and that’s provided that they’ve even existed here at all.
How can this be called Permanent Supportive Housing when clients are summarily evicted without having received any new strategies to help them overcome the issues that lead to their evictions? And to point out the obvious, all of these evictions add to the chronic homelessness in our community making Catholic Charities one of the major contributing factors to the perpetuation of the problem.
There is no recovery orientation present here at all. Without it, addicts are enabled to sit around and get high all day and night with absolutely no consequence for their actions. While Housing First does not put an emphasis on addiction recovery, it does place a strong emphasis on addressing the behaviors that are borne out of addiction because they ultimately contribute to a person’s chronic homelessness. There is absolutely no social or community integration. To the contrary, we are warehoused here like ugly unwanted cattle. We are the quintessential example of out of sight, out of mind.
Catholic Charities is running the largest trap house in the county. It is dangerous and unsafe to live here. Catholic Charities has paid a lot of lip service to Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing and have received the lion’s share of public funding to run these two programs but we have yet to see either come to fruition here at the Palms. Without meaningful support and resources, the Palms is nothing more than an indoor encampment. Make no mistake about it, the majority of us here at the Palms are still homeless. Homeless in our thinking and homeless in the way we are living. Case management, or more accurately, the lack thereof, is a primary contributing factor.
There are two key components that the case managers here overlook if they’re ever acknowledged at all. One is that chronic homelessness doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process falling into it and a process coming out of it. Logically, the longer one has been chronically homeless, the longer that process may take.
The other component is that the shared value systems that most people govern their lives by will not keep a person safe and alive on the streets. To the contrary, they will actually turn one into a victim. It therefore becomes imperative that one adopts a value system that is conducive to survival. Wholesome values such as trust, honesty, kindness, generosity and peaceful conflict resolution are replaced by suspicion, misdirection, hoarding, apathy and violence. Healthy values are abandoned faster than they can be compromised. Living in survival mode induces a constant state of hypervigilance and seeking the most basic elements in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, most homeless individuals are not even consciously aware of the ongoing changes in their values. But because it’s nearly the polar opposite of the rest of the community’s standards, the unhoused definitely feel the tension and the conflict as seeds of that “us” and “them” mentality are constantly in play.
Unwanted, shunned, viewed with contempt and disdain as if they were stains on the fabric of the community and defined in some of the most vulgar and insensitive
terms only serves to reinforce that mentality in the homeless and the housed alike. The longer one is chronically homeless the more ingrained this new value system becomes until it is as much of a part of us as our own DNA. After years, and in many cases, decades of living this way, along comes a group of well intended people who want to help you. You’re given a warm safe room to live in and a case manager. You are given a set of rules to follow, some structure and tasks you are responsible for. But the rules, structure and responsibility run counter to the culture you have been living in for so long. And you find yourself struggling as you have yet to receive the resources and support necessary to transition you back into mainstream community living. As a result you begin to receive warnings that turn into write-ups. The next thing you know your case manager is threatening to take away the housing you’ve just been provided with as a means of leveraging you into compliance even though you don’t have the tools to make those changes. Unbeknownst to case management what they have inadvertently done is reinforce your need to hold onto the distorted value system you’ve been living by.
When your housing is constantly being threatened and that threat is constantly being reinforced and used as leverage, it makes no sense to change the value system that has kept you alive on the streets because for all you know, and according to your case manager, you’re on your way back out to the streets anyway. This is one of the most common and most damaging mistakes made in working with the chronically homeless. The problem and the threats are reinforced but not the individual. Using one’s housing as leverage also reinforces authority figures as being the enemy as well as reinforcing the “us” and “them” mentality. Locked in this pattern of survival mode thinking will eventually lead to the demise of our housing.
The client/service provider relationship should be a sacred partnership. And it is…as long as we are complying and succeeding. But when we fail, the partnership is severed and the homeless are made to shoulder the failure and shame alone. In most cases, services are suspended or withdrawn entirely when in all actuality they should be increased. I know of no human services philosophy that advocates for the reduction or withdrawal of services when people are struggling the most. Yet this is a recurring policy at Catholic Charities. I’m tired of hearing case managers talk about how many chances an individual was given before they were finally evicted. To provide an individual with an opportunity but not the tools to take advantage of that opportunity is a form of cruelty. It makes about as much sense as prescribing Epicac to stop projectile vomiting.
Counting the number of chances as a means to evict needs to change. What if we applied that thinking to other areas of the health and human services field. Should a dentist withdraw services from a patient after their third cavity? They have, after all, been given three chances to practice better oral hygiene. Or should a psychiatrist turn a patient away from further sessions after his or her patient’s second suicide attempt?
They’ve been given two chances to get over their depression and learn to love life. When applied to other areas of health and human services that maxim seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? But it’s used regularly by case managers.
Without even looking at their case notes I can almost guarantee that all those who have been evicted from the Palms were not given the benefit of every
resource available nor the support they needed to maintain their housing. The eviction alone is evident of that. More likely than not they received a number of warnings and write-ups rather than resources and support. And in that way Catholic Charities is running the exact same program they have always run: using threats and punitive measures as a means to coerce clients into compliance rather than providing them with the tools, support, services and ever evolving strategies to help even the most challenging of residents retain their housing.
No one comes to the Palms on a winning streak. By the time we get here we are usually beaten down from the inside out. We are coming from a subculture with very little structure and very few rules, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and an alphabet soup of mental health issues, addiction issues, sleep deprivation and malnourishment. As is done with soldiers coming home from battle, we need to be debriefed, asked if we would like to talk about our experiences out there.Have you ever considered that most of us need to be resocialized? Some of us need to be retaught basic hygiene and appropriate social cues. Providing a roof over our heads doesn’t magically restore everything back to normal. As stated earlier and feel I need to reiterate here because it bears repeating: Chronic homelessness doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process going into it. It’s an even harder process coming out of it. That’s not to say that while we’re trying to climb out of it that we shouldn’t be held accountable or responsible for our actions. Let’s just be certain that everyone is operating under the same ground rules. One’s sense of accountability and responsibility are generally drawn from their value system. If that value system is dramatically different from yours, confusion reigns.
Case managers are quick to hold clients accountable and levy consequences when a client is not fulfilling their obligations and agreements with the program. But who holds Catholic Charities accountable when they fail to meet their responsibilities to their clients? Who holds your organization accountable for over promising and under delivering services? Who holds your organization accountable for countless evictions of clients who were never given the support and services needed to beat eviction?
What about the millions and millions of dollars and all the lip service paid to Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing? If we were to subtract all the evictions made from all the housing successes claimed I can only imagine it would paint an entirely different picture of Catholic Charities’ effectiveness in helping the homeless. Some of the practices they engage in drive many of the homeless away from services. In that way, Catholic Charities is contributing as much to homelessness in our community as they are battling it.
Most people won’t even consider this notion because it seems inconceivable and yet there is abundant evidence in the stories the homeless carry, in the dated strategies employed and the questionable practices Catholic Charities still uses. It’s such a huge dichotomy that the largest organization committed to helping the homeless is so out of touch with the population they mean to serve that no one can suspend their disbelief long enough to even consider the truth of the matter.
While it is true that most of us here at the Palms have existed in the narrow margins of society, that certainly doesn’t mean we deserve to have our lives disrespected and marginalized. No single one of us can predict with any degree of reliability all the variables in our lives. For the homeless those variables are stacked against us. Perhaps this is how we learn to pray but not for outcomes which meet our own small needs but rather for outcomes which fit a much larger design. One that brings us closer together as one human family under the care and direction of one loving Creator. This grievance is my prayer. It’s my prayer that Catholic Charities may gather up enough honesty and intestinal fortitude to suspend disbelief long enough to consider that there may be things they’re doing that are actually adding to the harm of an already damaged group of people.
If Catholic Charities can see what is true, I would hope that the organization will own whatever part is theirs to own. I’m not naive nor living in a perpetual state of victim mentality that many of the homeless have fallen into. This issue isn’t one- sided. We have our fair share of things we need to own as well. I am quick to point this out to the
homeless I still work with in my own independent outreach. But perhaps if we could find a way to work together in a more loving, patient, compassionate and understanding way towards reconciliation with an absence of pretense or defense we can all rise together as an example of hope to those who might otherwise have none.
THE PALMS INN ADDENDUM: THE GRUESOME TRUTH
‘More than 80 Palms residents have died since the inception of this program.
That’s over half the population.
On average, one Palms resident dies every 27 ½ days”
On Saturday July 30, 2021 the putrefied body of Katherine “Kat” Zaganoff, a resident here at the Palms, was found slumped against the wall in the far corner of her room. Shortly before her decomposing body was discovered, her neighbor was disturbed by a foul odor coming from Kat’s room. It was an odor he instinctively knew was death.
He notified the staff on duty. Stating his concerns, he asked that a welfare check be done. Staff refused to do so even after the neighbor walked him up to Kat’s door where the odor was permeating. The neighbor took it upon himself to call the paramedics. Only then did the staff member open the door so that the EMTs could carry out a check.
Based on the condition of the body and rate of decay, the coroner placed the time of death five to seven days prior to her body being discovered.
Two years ago, the badly decomposed body of another Palms resident who had died from Stage 4 liver cancer was discovered. The coroner estimated that the individual had been deceased for approximately two weeks. So long, in fact, that the smell was attracting vultures but not Palms staff. In both instances HazMat teams had to be called in to handle the cleanup.
On August 9, 2021, a resident saw through a small slit in the curtain that Larry Weaver, a paraplegic veteran, had fallen out of his wheelchair and was motionless on the floor. As I came down the staircase I saw a staff member knocking on Larry’s door stating, “Larry, I need you to answer me or I’m going have to come in to make sure you’re alright.” I left before the matter was resolved but all witness accounts concurred that the staff member never actually entered the unit. The next afternoon Larry Weaver was found dead in his room.
According to several reliable residents who have been keeping track of the number of deceased individuals here at the Palms, more than 80 people have died since the inception of this program. That’s over half the population. On average, one resident dies at the Palms every 27 ½ days. Some of these deaths can be attributed to natural causes while others were the result of pre-existing medical conditions. Some were drug related. Catholic Charities’ claims that those who didn’t die of the aforementioned died from the shock of no longer being homeless. That is, however, a cynical opinion at best, with no empirical evidence to support it. The high mortality rate coupled with an incredibly high eviction rate suggests that the residents are not receiving the support and resources they need and that their needs are grossly neglected.
Kat Zaganoff is but one of many examples. Approximately two weeks prior to her death Kat had been released from the hospital after a 15-day stay. A Palms neighbor discovered that Kat had been bedridden for almost three weeks. Gaunt and emaciated, she had lost 50 pounds and was lying in urine-soiled sheets with feces dried to her body like chunks of cement. The smell was so foul that the neighbor could not bear to enter the room. She immediately called the paramedics and informed staff that Kat was being taken to the hospital. Several days after she was admitted, Kat called her neighbor and thanked her for saving her life. Her doctor said that without the neighbor’s intervention, she would have died within 24 hours.
Exacerbated by chronic substance abuse and alcoholism, Kat’s failing health was not a secret to anyone. With three clogged heart valves, Kat rarely left her apartment as negotiating the second floor stairs was a Herculean task often too difficult for her to undertake. Given the state of her failing health, any reasonable service provider would have checked on Kat regularly. It seems inconceivable that Kat’s case manager was completely unaware that her client had been upstairs in her room slowly dying for three weeks. Yet, that is the truth.
In both instances no checks were ever done on her. Not even in death with the smell of a rotting corpse coming from her room was a welfare check even once done by any of the Palms staff. It would be unfair to speculate whether Kat would still be alive if regular checks had been conducted. What I do know is this: Due to the weakened state Kat was in when she returned from the hospital, daily welfare checks should have been done on her until she regained her strength and was able to call for help on her own if she needed to. Had those checks been done the last memory of my friend might not be
that of a blackened corpse melting down the wall into a gelatinous pool of blood and bodily fluids surrounded by maggots.
With the death of the male resident with Stage 4 liver cancer, the coroner placed the time of death at two to three weeks prior to the discovery of his badly decomposed corpse. This is not speculation but rather a matter of fact: For three weeks, not a single welfare check was performed on a terminally ill cancer patient by the Palms staff.
Susan Boyd is another example of Catholic Charities failing to provide the support and resources necessary to keep her in housing. Susan is a chronically homeless woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She is highly functional when she is taking her medication. She is not, however, well enough to self administer her meds with any measure of consistency. Homelessness compounded the issue as her medication was constantly being stolen from her. When she is off her meds she is prone to psychotic episodes of wandering aimlessly and screaming in a very deep Satanic-like voice at an unseen person or persons. She can literally scream for hours in episodes that I’ve seen last for several days.
The manager at the time did not feel that the Palms was an appropriate placement for Susan, that she would not have access to the kind of care and support she needed. She was, however, placed here and Susan and the staff enjoyed a great honeymoon period. But after the honeymoon was over, it got back to business as usual and Susan became just another resident and the psychotic episodes began. Adding to the issue were the resident drug dealers who preyed on Susan’s vulnerability, feeding her methamphetamine on fronts and collecting money from her whenever she had it.
For the first two or three psychotic episodes, staff intervened as best as they could. But for these types of episodes and with no contingency plans in place, the staff was at a loss as to how to help her. After the third or fourth episode the staff just ignored the screaming. Sequestered in their office, they didn’t have to listen to the screaming all day… or at 4 a.m. But the residents did. It wasn’t fair to any of us. It certainly wasn’t fair to Susan.
This was a woman in the midst of a psychotic break requiring professional attention. She landed in Psych Services a few times to be stabilized. Each time she was stabilized she was returned to the exact same level of minimal care that precipitated
the episodes in the first place. On her last trip to Psych Services, while being hospitalized, she was evicted. When she was released from the hospital she had come full circle to where her journey began. Susan was once again in the nightmare of street
level homelessness even though her VI-SPDAT score placed her as one of the most vulnerable among the homeless population.
Had an agency been contracted to provide an RN or LVN to administer Susan’s medication daily, contingency plans could have been made to help manage her psychotic episodes. A partnership with Buckalew or a similar organization to expand resources and support for Susan, might have given her a fighting chance at a relatively stable life. With Buckalew, she would have had a day program to support and engage her if she so desired along with access to a food pantry of items she could bring back to her unit. However, none of these resources were made available to her. It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that Susan Boyd was not successful at the Palms. As Catholic Charities failed to provide Susan with even minimal support with standard resources, she was forced to shoulder that failure all alone.
In most cases, when a client’s needs are neglected and adequate services are not provided, the effect it has on the community as a whole can be subtle. But there are some instances, such as gruesome deaths and Susan’s psychosis, where the impact is huge and weighs heavily on the community. But still, nothing is being done to remedy the situation.
Hoarding is another issue that is seldom addressed. This disorder is prevalent among many of the chronically homeless. There are many cases of it here at the Palms. Some of the residents’ rooms are uninhabitable with garbage, spoiled food and an excess of all manner of stuff’ strewn about. The consequence is the severe roach infestation that has affected all the residents at the Palms.
While an effort is made to have somewhat regular extermination, only a symptom, or rather, a consequence of the problem is addressed rather than the problem itself. While case management cannot be held responsible for the roach infestation, they contribute greatly to it by doing nothing meaningful to help their clients resolve their hoarding disorders. Further, what kind of case management is being practiced that provides for clients to live in absolute squalor and filth? Some people are living in subhuman conditions in rooms that may very well be condemned if the health inspector were to examine them. It is both cruel and inhumane to have human beings living in such conditions without help or support and yet they are. Once again, for the residents over 65, a representative of Adult Protective Services calls this elder abuse.
In the eight years I’ve lived here I’ve seen countless improprieties and questionable actions but some remain completely incomprehensible to me.
A widow was made homeless by Catholic Charities the very same day that her partner died. Before he died, the tenant asked his case manager to put his partner of 14 years on his lease. She had already been living here with him for two years. However, the manager subsequently told the grieving widow that she had been unable to connect with him before he died despite the fact that he had been in the room for at least two weeks prior to his death. The traumatized widow was forced to vacate the property and kept out for weeks.
The name Joseph Ajepong may not be familiar but many Santa Rosans know who he is. For years, Joseph was a fixture on the bench in front of Peet’s Coffee on 4th St. A homeless African immigrant and musician, Joseph took up residency on that bench and played music for passersby to support himself. However, his growing collection of property stashed between the redwood trees behind the bench became a source of irritation to the local merchants. Numerous complaints about his collection of property were made to SRPD. They contacted Catholic Charities HOST Outreach Team and asked them to intervene to get Joseph services and into the shelter system. If he didn’t comply, they would begin issuing citations that would eventually turn into warrants for which he would be arrested and lose all of his property.
A member of HOST staged an intervention with Joseph. He agreed to go to Sam Jones shelter and to put his stuff in storage. A budget for Joseph to save tips in order to cover storage costs was devised. The plan sailed along for four months but Joseph couldn’t meet his goal in the fifth. The HOST supervisor said to cut him loose. He was cycled out of Sam Jones but by then his equipment had been auctioned off and he was left with no means to make a living.
Tesla Dakota Trippo had been chronically homeless for years and preferred the perils of homelessness over dealing with the improprieties of Catholic Charities. Finally convinced to give it another try she signed up for services and a VI-SPDAT was administered. She scored in the top tenth of the most vulnerable. She was told that she would be placed in HOST’s next presentation to the Palms for immediate placement.
Soon thereafter, it was rumored but never substantiated that Tesla was selling drugs. The HOST worker unilaterally terminated Ms. Trippo’s status for placement. She was never informed of the cancellation and four months later, she learned from a friend what had happened.
I still shudder when I think of one of my own experiences with Catholic Charities. Two years ago I was informed by my former case manager that I was about to lose my
Section 8 voucher because I had not recertified in time. He said there was nothing he could do to help me and that I should sit down with him and form an exit strategy. Part of that strategy was to get myself on the waiting list for a bed at Sam Jones. I rejected his suggestion outright and took matters into my own hands. I contacted my new worker at Burbank housing and explained the situation and the extenuating circumstances that had placed me there. My worker was so understanding and accommodating and the process so easy that it made me wonder if my former case manager had even advocated for me at all. Had I listened to him and followed his suggestions I would have been homeless again
Stories such as these and countless others circulate continuously among the homeless community. These issues are not exclusive to the Palms. They reach all the way back to the Catholic Charities drop-in center on Morgan Street and with HOST, where the journey towards housing is supposed to begin. In their own way, HOST is another major contributing factor to our community’s homeless crisis. For years the homeless have been complaining and grieving about the improprieties and actions of this street outreach team but grievances continually fall on deaf ears. Staff is given the benefit of every doubt. The homeless never are. Rather, they’re often discredited with character assassinations and quickly find themselves on an unwritten blacklist,
For years, Devin Stoddard ran the waiting list for Sam Jones with an iron fist. If you curried favor with her and HOST you were given the velvet glove treatment. If not, you generally found yourself pushed to the back of the line. Once a person gets blacklisted, they typically find themselves written up for the smallest of infractions and services are suspended. Even for major rule violations I have never understood the philosophy of reducing services rather than increasing them. When clients act out they are essentially giving their worker a blueprint of the issues that need to be addressed immediately. But rather than increase support to address those issues, support is withdrawn completely. No one can get well when treatment is withheld. If they did they wouldn’t be repeating the behaviors that lead to their suspension of services.
For years the chronically homeless have unjustly been blamed and have carried the water for the ineffectiveness of Catholic Charities. While clients are held tightly accountable for their actions, nobody holds Catholic Charities accountable for over promising and under delivering services. Catholic Charities isn’t held accountable for wrongful evictions or for accepting federal grants for programs that are never brought to fruition. Have you ever stopped to ask yourselves “What does it say about our
organization when there are people who would rather risk the dangers of living on the streets than accept our services?” Or do you instead continue to blame the homeless while branding them as “Resistant to Services”?
The biggest irony to me is that for all the good work you do in the community to address homelessness, where the chronically homeless are concerned, Catholic Charities is one of the largest contributors to perpetuating the problem. Through evictions and practices that alienate people from accepting services, Catholic Charities actually contributes as much to creating homelessness as it does to ending it. I can’t help but wonder how successful your organization would look if you subtracted the number of clients you have evicted from the number of clients you’ve housed. In all likelihood it would paint a very different picture of your effectiveness in aiding the homeless.
If you continue to evict clients rather than giving them the support and resources they need to maintain their housing conversations, the goal of Functional Zero will be akin to that of griffins and unicorns. Then again, from a business perspective, achieving Functional Zero in this community really isn’t in your best interests. Not when you receive federal funding to house people under the guise of Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing and grant money to run the shelter which they end up in after you evict them. It is an insidious but brilliant business model with the homeless ultimately paying the price.
As you grow closer to the opening of your shiny new Caritas Village facility on A Street, what will become of us here at the Palms? You never finished what you started here. But with all the attention and energy focused on staffing and opening the new facility it stands to reason that we will lose the few resources and support that we have left here at the Palms, leaving us to feel like crash test dummies for your new program.
D. KaLane Raposa
by Ethan Varian Press Democrat
Sebastopol City Council voted on whether to introduce RV parking permits in Sebastopol November 30th 2021.
The latest agenda for this meeting will discuss Sonoma Applied Village Solutions using land being bought by St Vincent DePaul at 845 Gravenstein North (the old Amerigas location) as it is now unlikely the Community Center site next to an adolescent group home in the laguna flood plain is viable. City wide parking permitting and the clearing of Morris Street is also being discussed (Scroll down for more). The ‘Committee for the unhoused’ (Mayor Glass and Councillor Rich) have clearly been working very hard.
City of Sebastopol residents should join and contribute to the council meeting public comments on Zoom at the link below
Tuesday November 30th at 6pm:
Meeting ID: 850 5986 0136
Please email the council members your thoughts with a public comment for this meeting by emailing Sebastopol’s hard working City Clerk on this email address, mark your message ‘public comment’. email@example.com
Latest ‘RV Safe Parking’ concept
St Vincent de Paul will pursue acquisition of the property at 845 Gravenstein Highway North. St Vincent de Paul will then enter into a lease/RV Village management agreement with SAVS. The City will beasked to provide a Memorandum of Understanding that confirms City approval of the use of the property for the SAVS RV Village on a temporary basis. The City is also being asked to pay lease amounts needed to cover the mortgage and other carrying costs St Vincent de Paul will accrue during the initial one year period that SAVS is operating the RV Village. (SAVS is unable to cover these costs with the funding it received from the Continuum of Care.) Once SAVS is no longer operating the RV Village, St Vincent de Paul will take over operations. St Vincent de Paul is expressing interest in the possible future use of the property for low income or affordable housing. The City’s financial obligation will not extend past the initial one year period that SAVS will be operating the RV Village. SAVS is in full support of this proposal. The City’s Planning Director has confirmed that operation of an RV Village, on a temporary basis, would be permitted as an urgency measure, on the 845 Gravenstein Highway North property.
Committee for the unhoused question for the city council:
Parking Plan for Morris and City-Wide?
Answer: Are parking changes needed? Answer: Yes, a parking plan needs to be developed.
1. Basic Information: The City Council’s mandate to the Committee was clear: Prioritize an alternate location for the RV dwellers currently on Morris Street. The health and safety concerns raised by businesses, community members, and advocates for the unhoused have a long history and are heavily documented.
The problem has been escalating and is getting worse. The input the Committee has received in doing the tasks assigned to it by the City Council has carried a consistent message: Morris Street must be cleared and returned to use by the community at large. The potential for Morris Street backfilling with yet more RV dwellers living in yet more unsafe and unhealthy conditions must be addressed. Equally important is a consistent message of concern regarding the potential impact on Sebastopol’s neighborhoods if Morris Street parking rules are changed.
The Committee is confident that the citizens of Sebastopol are largely supportive of an RV Village for the Morris Street RVs, but only if the decision by the City Council includes a practical, enforceable, realistic plan to clear Morris Street and take measures to prevent similar developments in the town’s neighborhoods.
2. Council Action: The Committee recommends that the City Council take the following actions:
1. Make a commitment to clearing Morris Street, and supporting parking rule changes, as needed, to protect Morris Street as well as the neighborhoods from developing overnight parking problems in the future.
2. Direct City Staff to develop a practical, enforceable, realistic plan to do the following: (1) clear Morris Street, (2) modify and enforce parking rules on Morris Street to prevent future collection of overnight lived-in vehicles on that street, and (3) make any needed changes in parking rules City-wide to prevent similar situations from developing in neighborhoods and elsewhere in town.
3. Direct City Staff to submit this plan, with an outline of relevant alternatives, to Council at the December 21 City Council meeting.
4. Make a commitment to prohibiting RVs from moving into an RV Village as described in this Staff Report until the parking concerns described here have been addressed and resolved, with the benefit of the requested plan from City Staff.
REGULAR CALENDAR AGENDA ITEMS
(DISCUSSION AND/OR ACTION):
- Discussion and Consideration of Approval of Memorandum of Understanding for Pilot Program with Sonoma Applied Village Services (SAVS) to Operate a Temporary RV Village on City Owned Property (Requestor: Committee for Unhoused comprised of Mayor Glass & councillor Rich )
- Discussion of Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Redistricting Map and Consideration to Authorize Mayor to send
Letter to Sonoma County Board of Supervisors (Requestor: Mayor Glass)
An RV on fire on Morris street, September 2020
Non profit Sonomavillages have found grant money to partially fund a ‘safe parking’ area for vehicle dwelling people, and have approached Sebastopol Council requesting usage of space adjacent to the City Community Center, Wischemann Hall, the peace gardens, Green Acre Homes and School (which providing trauma informed care for boys 6 to 20) and of course the Laguna, an important local tourist destination.
This area of Sebastopol is in a flood plain in winter and a major fire risk to the city in summer. Unlike many other cities Sebastopol currently has no parking restrictions or zoning for RV dwellers on city streets. (Ironically Sonoma County does not allow land owners to live in RVs on their own land and sanitation infrastructure but has a very confused and reactive approach to street encampments).
As we recover from the pandemic, Sebastopol’s community civic amenities are increasingly being used again. Community Center tickets have been presold as entertainment ramps up and we are now seeing tourists looking for parking to visit the Barlow and events again.
Muddled Council Thinking as Tax & Tourist Revenues have Decreased While Costs to the City Climb
Many localities have strict permit laws to limit where RVs and caravans can park without prior agreement and permissions. Here is an example of a typical tag as a result of too many people living on public streets in Fullerton in Southern California.
Sebastopol Council have failed to deal with the steady increase in the homeless encampment on Morris street and RV’s dotted around town, and even decided to provide sanitation for anyone who would like to camp on city streets and debated spending city money to repaint the white lines on Morris street for cyclists to go around the homeless encampment.
The council is now debating whether to allow a partially funded ‘homeless KOA’ downtown to add to this generous egalitarian approach with local tax payers money. There is no long term funding in place for this densely parked ‘village’ which is both susceptible to violent propane fires and a huge evacuation risk in an area which floods very rapidly.
Sebastopol’s city funded RV park had a major fire which destroyed several vehicles in September 2020. The proposed ‘safe parking’ at the Community Center will be far more tightly packed in and a far greater fire risk.
A better way forward
Sonoma County Homeless strongly approves of strategies to help people with the three primary reasons for US homeless, Substance abuse disorder, mental illness & indigency, that are well orchestrated and triaged at a county level and which use existing county owned acreage and infrastructure to guide people into recovery.
Homelessness is also sadly a rapidly growing problem as a result of the economic depression and the end of the rent moratorium, and large scale planning is urgently needed now to help the rapidly increasing numbers in need.
There are plenty of local sites, campuses and options to help substance abuse and mental health challenged people at scale owned by the county as discussed elsewhere on this website, and where tiny homes are an excellent and cost effective solution, as we have seen in many other local areas.
Sadly, last year Sonoma County removed Sebastopol’s only downtown hotel – also an important fire evacuation center – losing tax revenue and tourist visits to take advantage of state ‘homekey’ grants. The claim was that the Sebastopol Inn occupants would be infirm and over 65 and needed urgent shelter because of Covid 19. There are now currently 27 people living in the hotel rooms with security to protect them from the people of Sebastopol and other outsiders running around $50k a month and with multiple hot meals delivered daily.
This plan – like the plans to rush thorough a homeless ‘village’ next to Sebastopol’s community Center – were motivated by short term grant money, a lack of long term thinking and a total failure to plan at scale while virtue signaling to the electorate.
Sonoma County Homeless therefore recommends
-RV permits and 3 hour parking limits in busy areas such as Morris Street
-Our board of supervisors present a coherent plan to the federal Housing & Urban Development (HUD), the Continuum of Care (CoC) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) on how they will direct triage and aid the specific needs of people who are allowed to live on the streets.
– Sebastopol City Council to refocus on inbound tourism and lessen budget spends on altruistic projects the State and County should be far better organized to triage.
Hopefully this week’s city council meeting will shed light on whether this one year downtown project is credible, given flood plain realities and a budgeting calendar for multiple state funded projects that ends abruptly, with no clarity on any future funding in a major inflationary recession.
There are many more appropriate Sonoma County locations to establish long term HomeKey housing for the homeless
Any serious strategies for planning and budgeting for large scale and complex homelessness problems require detailed projections that reach out to ten and to five years. These plans need to be mindful of changing realities and open to creative solutions.
Currently project Homekey is a 2020 housing initiative and a major shift in focus by California politicians, with significant amounts of money made available for pandemic housing in motels and hotels, either rented or purchased outright.
Previous generations of California and other state efforts have bled out large amounts of money from public budgets with few success stories. This latest California effort takes advantage of federal funding to address what is now a rapidly growing housing, crime and sanitation emergency throughout the state.
While it is unlikely Sonoma County will be granted HomeKey funds to purchase the Sebastopol Inn given the multiple reasons why the location, building and scale of the solution are not fit for purpose, the need to house and care for the homeless is not going to be going away and local services, churches and volunteers continue to do compassionate care work. These sacrifices and hours of toil are laudable but are also a band aid on our growing problem.
Given the scale and diverse – often opposing – needs of the homeless (economic hardship, substance abuse, mental illness, itinerant lifestyle, physical and medical challenges…triaging is a complex issue) piecemeal warehousing of the homeless in tightly confined areas can often exacerbate problems and encourage destructive behaviors.
While funding will be more difficult to obtain for large-scale homelessness solutions, concepts such as small scale versions of the Citizens Again concept are well suited to Sonoma County’s ample land and vacant infrastructure to create tiny home communities with appropriate services and resources. Austin Texas, which has a significant homeless problem, has experimented with this approach with Community first Village.
This approach is ideal for Sonoma County and would be a credit to our serving politicians. Sadly these next two videos are also from Austin Texas 2020 and show the scale of problems if actions are not taken, much like our Joe Rodota Trail fiasco in 2019. (The author of this video cares about the homeless, click this link for one of his interviews with people living in Windsor Park Creek).
We strongly believe the path forward for Sonoma County is the Citizens Again/Community First Village approach. We cannot underemphasize the scale of the problems we face but this is the way forward, not warehousing people in downtown hotels while hurting local business communities!