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. 2 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 3 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.
5 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 6 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. 7
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. 8 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 9 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. 10 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 11 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 12 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. 13 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 14 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 15 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.
City of Sebastopol residents 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’. firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Non profit business ‘Sonoma Applied Village Services’ are soliciting for donations on their website to ‘help us organize Morris Street’ and with Mayor Glass and Councillor Rich arranged a meeting on November 3rd at the proposed downtown Sebastopol site they would like to take over for their project.
The meeting had a strong showing of SAVS personnel and volunteers plus some local building owners.
The Press Democrat’s editorial board wrote a wildly misleading piece on November 7th implying that Sebastopol City Council had already voted to approve the experimental camp, saying
‘Most recently, the Sebastopol City Council unanimously voted to create a safe parking program that will set aside space near the city’s community center for people living in RVs. Currently, RVs with people living in them park on city streets, especially Morris Street, which has more than a dozen’.
Diana Rich then posted the entire editorial on ‘NextDoor’ while also soliciting opinions about the project on that site.
After several emails to the editor they eventually amended the web version of their misinformation article on Wednesday 1oth but have made no effort to print a correction.
Oliver Marks was quoted as ‘another man’ in Camille’s article and commented below her piece
“…What Sebastopol needs is parking restrictions that are in line with many other California cities, and a county CoC & CDC who do their job effectively to triage homeless people to appropriate resources on county land. The county are failing badly in this role while leaking out money on band aid solutions like non profit run parking on flood plains that cynically leverage county city resources.
The county spent over NINETY MILLION on the homeless in the last year yet there are only 53 Sonoma county winter shelter beds available this winter. Why are these people partially funding non profit parking experiments when they should be providing services at scale for substance abuse suffers, the mentally ill and indigents?! The end of the rent moratorium is jeopardizing many more families, where is the organization to help people?“
‘Public Comment may be made prior to the meeting via email. To submit an emailed public comment to the CoC Board or the CoC Committees, email Madison.Murray@sonoma-county.org. Please label the written notice as public comment referencing the CoC Board or the CoC Committee, provide your name, the agenda number(s) on which you wish to speak, and your comment. These comments will be emailed to the referenced CoC Board or CoC Committee detailed in the request.
SonomaCountyHomeless will endeavor to find out what prompted the CoC to partially fund the SAVS downtown Sebastopol project concept instead of doing what this site strongly recommends: proven tiny home community planning and execution on county land and infrastructure.
(Following various requests, an upcoming article on this site will endeavor to explain how the county organizes their massive homeless budget and bureaucracy, and also notes on current California legal restrictions and realities)
SAVS are circulating by email their next meeting
‘Morris St. Safe Parking Lot Neighborhood Meeting‘ Monday, Nov. 22, 1 pm, Sebastopol Community Center Youth Annex
‘We’ve generated a solid To Do list for SAVS, had frank conversations, and begun to set up an ongoing Community Advisory Committee for the project’.
Safe Parking Lot Community Advisory Committee Members: Chris Anderegg, SCCC Bd President Keith Harman or Dan, Yellow House Representative from Wischemann Hall Rep. from Little League, Ball field
Mayor Una Glass, Chief Kevin Kilgore, Council member Diana Rich and I (Adrienne Lauby, President, Board of Directors SAVS: Sonoma Applied Village Services) will attend the meeting on the 22nd. (Larry McLaughlin, City Mgr., is out of town this week.)
Non Profit Sonoma Applied Villages Services would like to borrow City of Sebastopol land for one year adjacent to various Sebastopol civic amenities and tourist revenue generating sites.
The ‘safe parking’ transient vehicle parking ‘village’ concept is partially grant funded by Sonoma County Continuum of Care (CoC) and they claim to also be looking at other sites if this idea falls through. Sonoma Applied Village Services hope to raise more money to complete the funding for this idea and have been given a deadline of early December to use the CoC grant or lose it.
There are multiple reasons the Sebastopol community center site is not fit for purpose for this SAVS project:
Proposed site is a flood plain with recent histories of rapid water level rises (Park Village also flooded in 2019 with some residents evacuated by boat by the Sebastopol Fire Department.). Typical reaction and actioning of city emergency evacuation plans for this area is approximately five hours. The laguna water levels rise very rapidly. There is currently no plan for where RVs and other parked vehicles would go to evacuate to higher ground, assuming they are operational and moveable. Towing out vehicles as water levels rise to an unknown destination is not practical.
Area is a major fire risk in summer months when the laguna undergrowth is tinder dry. An encampment sweep was held in October 2021 to clear laguna transient encampments primarily to prevent these risks and damage to the laguna.
Year round, packing vehicles closely together in this proposed ‘village’ area invites a major fire event spreading across multiple vehicles, based on recent past fires at Park Village and on Morris Street, which could quickly spread to the adjacent Green Acre school and Wischemann hall structures.
The ensuing lawsuits could envelop Sebastopol City Council for years, especially if fires and/or drownings involve injuries and deaths on city land.
Not an appropriate civic site for substance abuse suffers, mentally ill & transient parking, given existing citizen rights and tax payer use of adjacent local facilities, which are incompatible and could expose children and visitors to additional inappropriate activities, sights and sounds to add to the regular disturbances already being endured in this area.
(The community center was recently without water for a week after transients cracked open the water main attempting to obtain water supplies, and there are serious vandalism, graffiti, pollution and narcotics use hazardous waste issues in this area).
Incomplete funding, no long term funding in place, meaning City of Sebastopol will potentially be saddled with cost overheads and overruns, may have legal difficulties requesting the camp is closed after 12 months dues to current California Martin v. City of Boise case law rights and complications.
This concept is only advantageous to Sonoma County, who are failing to provide adequate facilities for transients and the homeless, and to the SAVS non profit business model, but does nothing to ease the burden of transient street parking in Sebastopol.
Use of site is not contingent on any sobriety guarantees, or local origins of users.
If this project is voted in by Sebastopol City Council, this will mean the entire eastern border of the city will now provide free street livingspace funded by the city. From Park Village within Tomodachi Park (Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve), every east side parking space on Morris street to the north across highway 12 is occupied by transient caravans, RVs and cars …and now the addition of a new densely packed ‘RV village‘ to the north of that, in the middle of the city’s main citizen recreational facilities.
Laguna Parkway to the east off Morris is also heavily occupied by similar vehicles, while Ives Park and other local recreational areas have RVs parked next to children’s playgrounds and other city facilities.
Additionally, this time last year Sonoma County confiscated the Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station using covid 19 federal economic relief money repurposed by the state of California to buy hotels under ‘project Homekey’. That land is now wholly owned by the county who are currently spending $55,000 a month for armed guards to protect the 27 people currently living in the hotel rooms. Significant sums are being spent monthly for DEMA to run the facility.
Solutions to the rapidly increasing county transient vehicle accommodation
Pressure on the county and our board of supervisors is urgently needed to get a coherent strategy and action plan in place and actioned. The CoC & CDC need to demonstrate they can actually do their job and organize triaged help at the scale needed for the three main categories of transients: substance abuse, mentally ill and indigent at separate campuses with appropriate services for their needs on county land and infrastructure.
There is no reason for City of Sebastopol to proceed with yet another informally funded short term band aid fix for the massive California wide transient migration problem. The city has already contributed a disproportionate amount of land, effort and money to a poorly organized state and county problem.
This is not a viable long term solution and ignores the massive – and increasing – problem involving thousands of people with disparate major issues all lumped together under the terms ‘homeless’ and ‘unhoused’.
Sonoma County has plenty of land and infrastructure that could be quickly repurposed to triage the serious societal issues we are experiencing, but sadly the easier solution for our supervisors and bureaucracy is to outsource the hard work to non profits, who then exploit and piggyback onto existing Sonoma incorporated county city resources to achieve their goals instead of the county building out scale resources and services as they should be doing.
We are seeing this across the county, particularly in Santa Rosa and now increasingly in Sebastopol.
Lax past City of Sebastopol policies around street camping have arguably resulted in a magnet effect for transients, and is having a very negative impact on tourism and quality of life on the eastern side of Sebastopol as we emerge from the pandemic and start to rebuild our local economy.
Focus is therefore needed to pressure City of Sebastopol county supervisor Hopkins to find sites where SAVS can experiment with their safe parking idea on existing unused county acreage and infrastructure.
There are many examples nationwide of the tiny homes concept working very well. Sonoma Applied Villages are doing a great job as a non profit promoting this idea but it is not appropriate for a small city like Sebastopol when there are many better locations within the county at scale.
The SAVS request to borrow Sebastopol downtown land and infrastructure for 12 months should not be voted in by the 5 council members due to the both legal and practical realities outlined above, which could jeopardize city funding, legal risks and the safety and well being of the city’s citizens and job providers.
Contributed by a concerned downtownSebastopol citizen
I’d like to circulate some basic information.
Martin v. Boise, the 9th district court ruling around transients and shelter, only requires that transients be offered alternative shelter. If Council says they are supporting this transient parking proposal because it’s required by law, that is not true. They are supporting it because they want to and they want to bring in more transients into Sebastopol.
Transients can and do refuse shelter. We saw this during the Laguna encampment sweep and it’s well documented in countless other examples across Sonoma County. There is absolutely zero guarantee that Sebastopol’s illegal RV campers will move where there are rules if Council pushes through the SAVS proposal.
Sebastopol already has RV parking and Safe Parking at Park Village and the Community Church on Gravenstein Highway. Last December Sebastopol gave up it’s only downtown hotel, the Sebastopol Inn, and all of the revenue it brought to the City because the County converted it to a 31 room hotel for homeless housing. Sebastopol has more transient housing than Rohnert Park. If Council says we need more transient housing, it’s because they want more transients. We actually have more transient housing and programs than cities that are 6 times our size.
Sebastopol is a town of 7500 with a budget less than $10,000,000 with failing roads and sidewalks and severely underfunded infrastructure. Public works can’t keep up with the transient population we currently have. Recently transients cut the main water line at the Community Cultural Center. The repairs for that will come out of the City budget. Since the Sebastopol Inn conversion, we not only lost revenue but increased costs for transients including a $72K per year outreach coordinator, an encampment sweep of the Laguna, services on Morris Street and increased public works time.
The most cost effective way to clean up Morris Street and prevent future RV encampments around Ives’ Park, Palm Avenue, 116, and in neighborhoods is to institute RV permit parking. An effective and smart Council would have implemented RV permit parking after conversion of the Sebastopol Inn.
Sonoma Applied Villages Services (SAVS) is a transient advocacy group and non-profit. Their mission and purpose is to advocate for and get resources for transients. They lobby government for money, space and resources for their constituents. And look they are doing a great job, they got a contract for $300,000 plus. They’re in talks with the City of Sebastopol’s City Council and are poised to have free access to a prime piece of land next to a Laguna trail heads, a cultural center, a Youth Park, bike lanes, park trails, right in downtown Sebastopol. What great digs for their transient clients. And they might even be able to get the City of Sebastopol to fill in their funding gap. All that is great work on behalf of SAVS transient constituents.
It’s not great work on behalf of Sebastopol’s small businesses, Sebastopl’s children, Sebastopol’s non-profits. Adrienne Lauby, SAVS director, is not responsible for balancing our budget or making sure there is enough money for new equipment for our fire department or making sure our public works department has enough staff. Council is responsible for that. Council is supposed to advocate for small businesses, for our children,for our non-profits. Council is responsible for balancing the budget, supporting local businesses who have been through fire, flood and pandemic, encouraging new businesses by making our town appealing in this increasingly and incredibly competitive market place. If this proposal passes, Council is working FOR SAVS, not for Sebastopol.
In an August 24 Instagram post, Adrienne Lauby praised Council as they have “done so much to help the residents (meaning transients) of Morris Street”. Of course, Council must have loved this, getting an instragram shout out from their hero, Adrienne Lauby who they awarded a coveted 2021 spot on the Sebastopol peace wall. With Council’s clear preference for Lauby, one wonders if this would be considered an “arms length” transaction or if Lauby has undue influence over Council.
Adrienne Lauby has played Council like a fine tuned fiddle – providing resources for transients on Morris Street, giving Council praise shoutouts on Instagram, increasing transient numbers, making it so bad that this SAVS proposal looks like a godsend. It’s a classic tactic, making something so bad that any solution looks like a good solution. And guess what, SAVS just so happens to have the solution.
If Council supports this project, it shows how good Adrienne Lauby is at her job and how bad Council is at their jobs. There is no reason – legal – or otherwise that Sebastopol should support this project. The only reason why it would be here is because Adrienee Lauby wants it here.
The structures would ideally be 150 square feet or greater and include cooking and bathroom facilities on site, according to the county. The tiny home communities would be connected to city water and would be required to be equipped with wastewater disposal.
Various prefab home builders bid for this great opportunity, which emulates similar developments around the country and which have been previously discussed here.
At that time Zane defended spending taxpayer money and occupying public land for ‘homeless projects’.
“It costs more taxpayer dollars for somebody to remain homeless than it does to put them in a safe, secure place,” Zane said to the Press Democrat. “Those costs add up in terms of health care and criminal justice spending when people are out on the streets.”
2020 has seen a huge change of thinking from supervisors Zane and Hopkins as a result of California State governor Newsom’s ‘project Homekey’ concept of permanently housing people in purchased hotel complexes. Newsom, who spends a surprising amount of time on Twitter sharing TV moments he has found emotionally touching and promoting concepts he is in favor of seems to have an endless supply of money to pour into expensive hotel purchases and conversions.
Sadly, Sonoma County citizens find out what our tax money spending decision makers are doing retrospectively, often via their colleagues at the Press Democrat who politely ‘report’ on decisions made, contracts signed and money spent after the fact. Freedom of Information requests for contracts and information made by citizens are typically met by a wall of bureaucratic omertà, but there is plenty of self congratulation by our supervisor as decisions are announced.
‘County officials’ say the cost the county provided to the state Aug. 13, more than a month after signing an agreement to buy the Hotel Azure for $7.9 million, was ‘simply a placeholder’ and that it will cost ‘at least’ an additional $3 million more. An official appraisal will supposedly precede ‘ongoing negotiations with the state’.
Sonoma County contains an average of 3000 homeless currently, assuming no influxes of itinerants attracted by resources on offer, and the Hotel Azura and Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station (the station is a small shopping complex) would house approximately 75 people in approximately three years time, after an additional three million is spent on kitchens and sprinklers to comply with local and state regulations.
The Hotel Azure has 42 kitchen less bedrooms. Supervisor Linda Hopkins, who has clearly never visited the Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station, has been hoodwinked by someone that the hotel has ‘kitchenettes’ in each room. It does not. The rooms have microwave ovens except for two small entertainment areas suites which do have sinks as well as microwaves.
Quoting Tyler Silvie of the Press Democrat Alltold, county officials expect to spend $16.4 million to buy, renovate and operate Hotel Azura for the next two years as homeless housing. The county would spend less — about $10.3 million — on the 31-room Sebastopol Inn, which Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said could be ready to serve residents more quickly, citing existing, in-room kitchenettes. But both hotels will carry substantial ongoing operations costs — $4.6 million combined annually, money the county has requested from the state. Additional money to run the hotels beyond two years is up in the air.
So essentially we have a spend of approximately $360,000 per converted single bedroom to prepare ‘homes’ for 75 people that will be ready in three years, totaling approximately 27 million dollars to buy the Hotel Azure & Sebastopol Inn as the foundations of this project.
This website suggests revisiting some of the many pre fab home building companies doing amazing work to house indigents and substance abuse casualties on existing county land and infrastructure, and to thoroughly vet itinerant people who have arrived in Sonoma County before providing precious resources to attempt rehabilitation.
We also suggest that anyone reading this at a state level carefully examine the Homekey application paperwork, which is full of irregularities, and to reconsider the logic of this fantastically expensive adventure, which may well run out of funding in 2022.
Sonoma County have been awarded just under eleven million from Governor Newsom’s Homekey funding to now attempt to buy Santa Rosa’s Hotel Azure. The Board of Supervisors had recently awarded Homekey two million of tax payer and PGE settlement funds to pour into the ever expanding homeless black hole as part of their annual budgeting, and this will be contributed to this lavish project to expand the mentally ill, substance abuse and economically ‘homeless’ rooming house hub in the St. Rose Historic District neighborhood of Santa Rosa.
The Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station is apparently on a Homekey bureaucratic future funding ‘wait list’ for conversion to a permanent ‘homeless’ rooming house according to the County’s media friends at the Press Democrat. It has been extremely hard to stay ahead of any of these developments before they are formally announced, despite multiple freedom of information requests (which are typically refused).
It’s hard to know what can be effective in opposing the totally autocratic decision making coming from Governor Newsom’s bureaucrats given a complete lack of transparency and their magical abilities to make available vast sums of money for project funding. There are pockets of resistance all over California, with plenty of proof of the failures of project RoomKey, the room rental predecessor to the current HomeKey bonanza for low budget hotel owners.
As previously discussed here, the term ‘homeless’ is hopelessly vague. We have genuinely economically homeless people (some of whom need to stay in hotels as their houses burnt down), people with substance abuse issues, people with mental health issues and blends of all these elements and issues. The current policies and lavish decision making continue to be disastrous and are making a bad situation worse.
As San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom grandly proclaimed in 2004 that within ten years he would ‘end homelessness’. Ten years later the streets were awash with encampments, human waste and drug paraphernalia, and today six years later are in an even worse state, with our economic depression set to make things worse. Los Angeles has increasingly major problems, with vast encampments and inbound transients. We are now seeing Newsom’s vision to ‘end homelessness’ rolled out across California at scale for the coming decade with no apparent mea culpas or admissions that his leadership approach is not only ineffective but actually making a bad situation worse. Given that California is politically one dimensional and entirely controlled by the Democrat party, there are only costly legal challenges as options to oppose this autocratic rule.
There are far better solutions to resolving the multiple issues ‘homeless’ people are grappling with, but they are being willfully ignored by the burgeoning ‘non profit’ homeless services industry.
Meanwhile we’ve already heard of one person who has sold up in Santa Rosa and is moving out of state, tired of fighting the giant bureaucracy that is steadily expanding to reward indigents from far and wide with voucher funding, housing and ‘wrap around services’.
It appears then that the next stages of promoting positive ‘homeless’ solutions and services and contesting the Homekey funded county services will be legal objections, given that attempts at discussion with the county or their media friends falls on deaf ears.
On September 20th 2020 there was a major fire which sadly destroyed at least one caravan home.
The entire ‘Village Park’ property was purchased by the City primarily as a public laguna park for Sebastopol citizens and visitors. The City prepared a conceptual plan for park-related improvements of the entire property; Tomodachi Park represents implementation of one portion of this plan. However, the previous owner’s ‘Village Park’ mobile home pads have been maintained, and the City has not made a determination as to the long term status of this mobile home use.
The ‘Park Village’ Group of Advocates/ city/WCCS joint venture project is supported by the City of Sebastopol and private donors. In addition to the new living units, WCCS ‘is providing case management and supportive services to the 65 current extremely low and very low income residents of the Park: connections to employment, health, education, and will use its broad range of human services and partnerships to increasingly integrate the park and its residents into the broader community’.
Allow a few seconds for the videos to load, there are almost the entire two days of deliberations captured here plus the final day one hour conclusion, thanking our county staff for their hard work and self congratulation by our elected representatives.
Where your taxpayer money went
The budget has a current $20 million deficit which was balanced in part with $26.8 million taken from the $149 million PG&E settlement stemming from the 2017 wildfires, which was intended to help ensure our future fire safety.
The money will instead be used to greatly increase funding for mental health, substance abuse, homeless services and associated expensive ongoing ‘Watson’ IBM software licensing costs for “ACCESS” bureaucratic systems (an unexpected additional budget cost last week), $920,000 for ‘clearing brush’ and a potential future tax measure to bolster fire services (using PGE fire compensation money to tax citizens further for fire services…), and expansion of bureaucracy by the council for ‘oversight’ of the county’s law enforcement, and also to ‘restore county reserves’ depleted during past fires. Among items included in Sonoma County’s $2 billion budget:
$2 million: To chip in support for the application for $26 million from the State via ‘project Homekey’ to purchase of Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa and the Sebastopol Inn in Sebastopol for ‘permanent housing for homeless residents’
$355,000: Strengthen support for homeless services
$5.5 million: To expand the mobile support team that responds with law enforcement in cases involving mental health crises
$1.4 million: To boost support for the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Oversight over the next two or three years, including the addition of two attorneys
$20 million: COVID-19 response next year, including expanded testing
$384,000: Food distribution and other senior services
Source: Sonoma County Administrator’s Office
This is early stage information, we will get into the details once we have had a chance to analyze and explore further.
Day Three single closing session
Above are almost the entire public sessions of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors discussing the annual budget for the coming fiscal year for analysis.
We have sat through two days of your rushed deliberations this week in a tightly packed but poorly organized or communicated schedule as you attempt to very quickly create an annual budget to run services on behalf of Sonoma County tax payers and residents.
The long hours you have spent talking are visible for viewing via Zoom but there has been little opportunity for citizen interaction, except for ninety second sound bites which don’t appear to be taken very seriously, with no follow up or answers to speaker questions.
During Thursday you are presumably meeting off the record before reconvening on Friday to celebrate closing the books on a budget the supervisors think will work for the county and its employees, partners and contractors.
There is virtually no time to react to your conversations and small group consensus agreements, but here are some thoughts on the ‘ending homelessness’ budget expansions and utopian plans you agreed on Wednesday September 9, parts of which are embedded here.
The first law of holes As noted elsewhere on this site there has been zero success in ‘ending homelessness’ in Sonoma County over the last few years. 3,000 people are homeless and it is clear there is no coherent plan in place, although the increased funds you are helping yourselves to by slashing budgets elsewhere will partially be used to try and figure out what you are doing for the future.
The first law of holes, or the law of holes, is an adage which states: “if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. Digging a hole makes it deeper and therefore harder to get out of, which is used as a metaphor that when in an untenable position, it is best to stop carrying on and exacerbating the situation.
It’s not possible to have a ‘no confidence’ vote as you are making bureaucratic decisions as a clique with no oversight or community discussion. This has been going on for years, and now that we are in the jaws of a major economic depression sadly both the homeless situation is getting more serious and so is the lack of any sort of coherent planning or consideration of other approaches .
The planned lavish spending on these vague plans fly in the face of logical ways to actually address the three main causes of homelessness: economic hardship, mental illness and substance abuse.
The idea of grabbing grants to warehouse people in hotel rooms is extremely naive and will have serious long term tax base and community ramifications in both Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, while homeless industry ‘providers’ will welcome more homeless with open arms …because that is their reason for existing.
Build it and they will come
It is well known that services provided for substance abuse itinerants act like a magnet, with the ‘RV armadas’ Supervisor Rabbit mentioned heading to Sonoma County from all over. Chico is now heading in the right direction as a community having realized this harsh reality. Supervisor Zane appears to be particularly naive on this topic despite having lived near homeless issues in Sonoma County for some time, and having presumably noticed the increase in needles, human excrement, drug dealing and criminal damage on city streets as she passes through.
The police are overwhelmed and have mostly given up on everything but serious crimes by these substance abuse altered people, who have little empathy or community spirit.
There are solutions being successfully rolled out in other states, with Houston and Austin in Texas notable examples discussed on this site.
We urge you to make public the materials requested by the chair (at 3:20 in this video) from Barbie Robinson, which will presumably form the basis for the backbone of your latest short and medium terms plans, paid for out of contingency funds, and any other plans for public discussion and comment.
Sonoma County residents deserve to be consulted on your proposed plans. Even Sebastopol City Council has no say in your acquisition of city properties with state grant money to repurpose them into homeless room houses. Even local homeless people have predicted this warehousing approach will result in the conversion of a hotel in to a ‘tweaker den’ backing on to the Joe Rodota Trail within six months
We urge you to have some humility and consider the entire community in your planning, and to study what actually works in ‘ending homelessness’, because what you have been executing so far has had little success.
Please feel free to respond in the comments section and we look forward to future dialog as a community.