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360k investment proposed for each hotel room homeless conversion, ready in three years

A spoof postcard of Shirlee Zane advertising the pleasures of Sonoma County to our sadly rapidly growing homeless population

In early 2016 Sonoma supervisor Shirlee Zane was exploring housing the ‘homeless’ – meaning indigents, the mentally ill and/or people trapped by substance abuse – in tiny homes on county and private land.

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.

More recently in 2019 pallet shelter erected 60 personal shelters in 10 days at the Los Guillicos site for the emergency rehousing of the large Joe Rodota Trail encampment of itinerants and substance abusers. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins seemed delighted with the results.

Courtesy of Pallet Homes

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.

The latest chapter in our saga, announced by the County mouthpiece Press Democrat, is that the sale of the Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa is being enabled by Homekey Money, and that the Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station is on a ‘wait list’ – presumably waiting for Newsom to magic more money from somewhere in a major economic depression.

‘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 
All told, 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.



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Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station, Santa Rosa Hotel Azure Project ‘Homekey’ latest

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.  

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane Third District (Santa Rosa) & interim director Barbie Robinson promoting IBM enterprise software on the Sonoma county website
https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Board-of-Supervisors/District-3/


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.

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Park Village fire

Park Village is a joint venture with the City of Sebastopol, WCCS, and the ‘Group of Advocates‘ (a voluntary organization concerned about the homeless). In this unique program, WCCS placed eight mobile living units in Tomodachi Park to provide homes for chronically homeless families and individuals.

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’.

Park Village is adjacent to the east of Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station, which Sonoma County has applied for state funds to buy and convert into a homeless shelter.

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Morris Street RV Fire

https://www.facebook.com/pg/Sebastopol-Fire-Department-171901942852182/posts/

“RV Fire Morris Street Friday night. We tried to get it out before it got into the power lines but we’re unable to.” – Sebastopol Fire department.

Fortunately no propane tank explosions but power was knocked out for surrounding businesses.

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Email to Project Homekey: ‘Status of Sonoma County Project HomeKey application? ‘ 

Hello

Could you please let us know the status of Sonoma County’s application to purchase the Sebastopol Inn for permanent  conversion into homeless beds. This whole process is shrouded in secrecy and it is very hard for citizens to know what is being imposed on them by our county’s politicians!

You can find details of the challenges faced in Sebastopol and also Santa Rosa, which has the fourth largest ‘homeless’ population in Californian on our 

www.sonomacountyhomeless.com 

website and on the Citizens for Action Now!  Santa Rosa website. 

Which is a separate and now partner venture. 

We strongly believe that Sonoma County should be using one of the many pre existing sites and campuses they own to immediately get to grips with the homeless situation. 

The Santa Rosa fairgrounds could be immediately repurposed to help provide the many vehicle based homeless with sanitation and other basic facilities, and temporary housing erected before the winter. Longer term large campuses owned by the county such as the former hospital on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa could be developed as low cost housing/tiny homes. There is sanitation, power and water on site and the model that has been so successful in Austin Texas could be easily replicated there. 

We feel very strongly that removing the only functioning downtown hotel in Sebastopol, (which was recently used for fire evacuations) to use as homeless accommodation is a non starter. We talk to a lot of the local homeless people in Sebastopol and even they think it is a bad idea. It is located on the trail where a huge 250+ person homeless encampment sprang up last year and an RV living local commented to me this week that it would ‘become a tweaker den within six months’.

We are keen to see the county pursue well thought out strategies to help the homeless, and those with substance abuse and mental health problems, but damaging a small town like Sebastopol by removing the only hotel that is a vital part of local hospitality and associated jobs is a terrible idea. 

Buying 30 hotel bedrooms to convert to ‘homes’ doesn’t begin to solve the scale of homelessness issues, hurts the small downtown on multiple levels and is yet more evidence of Sonoma County’s complete lack of credible strategies or budgeting for homeless services as evidenced by last year’s civil grand jury report

Thank you for your time and we look forward to receiving details of the status of Barbie Robinson’s Sonoma County application for Project Homekey funding as soon as possible!

 

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Sonoma County supervisors shift $2 million that had been earmarked to buy hotels to support local businesses and rental assistance programs

Press Democrat September 1 2020….To boost funding for small businesses and struggling renters and landlords, supervisors shifted $2 million that had been eyed to help purchase two hotels to house homeless residents. Instead, the board agreed to split that amount, with an additional $1 million each going to the small business grants and rental assistance programs.

Supervisor David Rabbitt expressed frustration with the process, saying he had always been against using CARES Act funding for the hotel purchases, even if he’s supportive of the program as a whole. The original amount slated to help small businesses — $1.5 million — didn’t come close to fixing the problem, he said
“It creates the illusion that we’re actually doing something when it’s actually a token amount of dollars,” Rabbitt said.
Toward the end of the discussion, Rabbitt led the effort to delay a decision on funding for the purchase of the Sebastopol Inn and Hotel Azura in downtown Santa Rosa, the two hotels eyed for homeless housing. He sought to put all $2 million allocated for those purchases into grants for small business before Supervisor Lynda Hopkins brokered a compromise that will split the money between small business help and rental assistance.
Supervisors will revisit the funding for hotel purchases next week, when they review spending of one-time money in budget discussions set to kick off Tuesday. Rabbitt said the need in the business community is more immediate than for the hotel purchases, which have yet to be finalized.
“For me, it’s about setting ourselves up for success instead of failure,” Rabbitt said….

Read more here

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Santa Rosa Hotel Azura no sale to Sonoma County Petition

‘Our small neighborhood next to the Hotel Azura in downtown Santa Rosa has a similar response to the County’s proposal to purchase the hotel with Homekey funds from the State’:
https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/hotel-azura
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The 72 Acre Chanate Road former Kaiser campus is a good fit for a large tiny home community

Sonoma County supervisors scrapped their most recent effort to sell the Chanate Road campus after a third developer walked away in early 2019 from negotiations to develop the land in northeast Santa Rosa for housing.

The Board of Supervisors first tried to sell the property for up to $12.5 million in a deal with local developer Bill Gallaher. His plan, which envisioned more than 800 units on the 72-acre site, was derailed by a lawsuit filed by neighbors of one of the largest vacant developable public parcels for housing within Santa Rosa city limits.

The county is required under state rules to deal principally with affordable housing firms or public or nonprofit entities in sale negotiations.

The Chanate Road property is currently mostly vacant, with maintenance costs soaring as the county seeks to control and limit break-ins and vandalism.

Sonoma County spent $768,000 in 2019 on securing the buildings against break-ins, and by June of 2020 costs reached $519,783, including last November and December, according to county documents.

The most recent decision reached by the board was to tear down 13 of the buildings on the site. $10.8 million was earmarked in September 2019 but bids for that work are at an unknown stage.

Meanwhile this Chanate Road campus property value has dropped. Having been appraised for $7 million in 2016, the value had dropped to $4.24 million by 2019 partially due to escalating costs for seismic studies and demolition of the asbestos-ridden buildings along with lawsuit resistance from neighbors.

According to a Press Democrat article by Ty Silvy “It is a perfect property to place an appropriate level of housing and services,” then Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin. “I’m confident we can find a developer to move that forward with the neighbors. But it seems to be challenging right now.”

Given the rapidly expanding homeless crisis this 72 acre property, which had been intended for low cost housing development should now be developed as ultra low cost and low cost housing, along with short term use of the Santa Rosa fairgrounds to house the homeless, and as temporary homes for homeless construction workers to work with the county and community to convert the Chanate Road campus.

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Citizens for Action Now Sonoma County Website

Citizens for Action Now Sonoma County is a Santa Rosa focused website who have been focusing on homeless issues for some time. We highly recommend their website and blog, particularly this recent post about past failed programs and policies

How Many Homeless Programs and Policies Since 2007? Let Us Count The Ways.

Attached below this post is a public comment made to the Home Sonoma Leadership Council by an expert in homeless provider programs and systems who also has intimate knowledge of our local problems. 

Key takeaways?

Sonoma County has attempted to deploy numerous programs to “end homelessness” for the past 13 years. They tout a “35% reduction” without any proof, not telling the public that it had to do with changes in HUD definitions and count methodology. We didn’t “house” over 1200 people over a two year period(2013-2015). Since 2015 we’ve had virtually no change in the number of homeless and the tiny percentages they try and trumpet as success are statistically insignificant since they do not accurately count nor track those in their care.
Take a look at all the stuff Sonoma County has tried. They get an impressive presentation by a homeless consultant and run with their suggestions. Or tour one program elsewhere, again with an impressive presentation and no real proof that it did anything to significantly decrease homelessness. 
Finally, realize that almost NOTHING in the literature “proving” that housing first keeps people housed long term. Almost all studies only look at two years or less. Local officials love to claim they housed thousands. What they don’t tell you is it could be as little as 6 months to a year that a person stayed in whatever housing solution they put them in. After that they have no idea where they are. Sonoma County has a 28% success rate in keeping people housed past two years. NHIP Data
We need local officials to humble themselves and admit…read more on Citizens for Action Now website
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Reno/Washoe County Vulnerable Population & Homeless Strategy example

Vulnerable Population & Homeless Strategy

Vulnerable Population & Homeless Strategy

Currently, the Community Assistance Center (CAC) in downtown Reno provides services to assist individuals who are homeless, and is made up of three shelters and programs:  

  • Men’s Shelter
  • Women’s Shelter 
  • Family Shelter 
  • Well Care 
  • Early Learning Center
  • Restart
  • Community Health Alliance (CHA)

HSA provides 2.7 million dollars in funding for the CAC; however, a new approach was needed to tackle homelessness in the region, including separation of populations, diversion opportunities, and increasing case management services.    

A statistical analysis was conducted to get an overall grasp of what needs and goals residents had; as well as, to establish a baseline for better outcomes.

Upon conclusion of the analysis, residents at the shelter needed the following services to reach their goals of living independently: 

  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Medical and Mental Health Assistance
  • Transportation
  • Program and Service Availability
  • Vocational Rehabilitation

It was also concluded that needed resources for this population to achieve better outcomes were:     

  • Access to mental health and substance abuse resources
  • Decrease admission to jail and emergency room stays
  • Preservation of families to prevent foster care placements
  • Evaluation of individual needs vs. one size fits all
  • Increased and ongoing case management
  • Safe and stable environment
  • Find and sustain employment
  • Help others in same circumstances (peer support)
  • Reconnect with family/friends

In 2018, the State of Nevada executed an inter-local agreement with HSA for the use of 7 buildings (2A, 8C, 8 Central/South, 600, 601, 603, 604) on the campus and added two buildings (602 and 605) to provide homeless housing.   

The initial agreement for 7 buildings was approved by the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on October 9, 2019.  The secondary agreement to add 602 and 605 and redefine building 8 Central/South for the State staff was approved by the BCC on June 11, 2019.  The overall budget approved for this project in FY 2020 was $11 Million. 

In order to keep the project on time, some State staff will have to be temporarily relocated from buildings 602 and 605 to building 8 so buildings 602 and 605 can be remodeled for Our Place occupancy.  The Washoe County Community Services Department was brought on to manage the planning, design, permitting, construction and post occupancy phases of development.  HSA will manage operations for this essential community function upon completion of construction.