Homeless move into Los Guilicos shelter
On Jan. 23, county workers were preparing units for homeless people to occupy at the Los Guilicos Shelter on Pythian Road. As of Jan. 30, at least 45 people had moved into these temporary living quarters. Photo by Alec Peters.
To the surprise of many, the tip of northern Sonoma Valley has become a focal point of the county’s homeless crisis with the placement of an emergency shelter at the Los Guilicos complex across from Oakmont.
“I didn’t agree with the site,” said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin at a jam-packed, heated Jan. 17 meeting in Oakmont. “But it’s now our job to make it operate successfully with as little impact on the community as possible.”
County officials have said the temporary shelter is intended to be removed by April 30 and is part of a multi-phase county plan to eventually place those who want it into permanent housing.
In December, the board of supervisors declared the swelling 200-250 person homeless encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa a health and safety emergency, and pledged to clear the trail.
This triggered a scramble by county staff to come up with temporary locations for those living on the trail, many of whom have mental health, addiction and major health issues.
The board decided that a temporary emergency shelter on county-owned land should be one placement option.
County staff looked at over 200 sites over an acre or more as potential locations. Using a list of seven criteria, such as remoteness, access to service and public transportation, environmental issues, etc., the list was winnowed down to two sites, the vacant equipment yard on Mendocino Avenue on the county’s Administration Complex campus, and Los Guilicos.
“We had two horrible choices,” said Gorin on Jan. 17. “It happened so fast. It was an emergency and we needed to make a decision.”
Over Gorin’s objections, at its Jan. 14 meeting the board of supervisors selected the Los Guilicos site, even though there is no easy access to services or adequate public transportation.
This prompted a number of security and safety concerns from many Oakmonters right across the highway, and questions about whether the shelter was really “temporary.”
The county hired service organization St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County to operate the shelter, which was constructed quickly by installing 8x8 huts and erecting an eight-foot perimeter fence on a parking lot.
The site is meant to house a maximum of 60 people. As of Jan. 30, 45 people from the Joe Rodota Trail have voluntarily decided to come to Los Guilicos.
According to St. Vincent de Paul’s executive director Jack Tibbetts, homeless coming to the site are mostly older, with many having chronic health issues. Priority is given to who staff considers the most vulnerable, such as victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
He emphasized that though they can’t legally prevent residents from leaving, the rules of the shelter dictate that they can only leave via a shuttle that takes people up to Santa Rosa. The shuttle runs hourly. There is also a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, no alcohol or drugs are allowed at the site, and there is a team of county public health, mental health, employment and housing staff to address any needs.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the shelter, and St. Vincent de Paul staff are present day and night.
Constant rule violators may be asked to leave and would get help in finding another housing situation, said Tibbetts.
Both county and private security are working around the shelter, even one driving through Oakmont periodically from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Regarding potential walk-offs, Tibbetts said at a recent meeting with Oakmonters that, “I can’t sit here and say it’s never going to happen, but we’re going to do the best we can.”
Tibbetts has spent many hours talking with Oakmonters, answering any questions and even handing out his cell phone number. He said that he will be in constant contact with Oakmont administrators going forward, and will address any problems as soon as possible.
Many Oakmonters have stepped up to volunteer at the Los Guilicos shelter, which Tibbetts has said is very “heartening and heart-warming.” Just a few days after the tense Jan. 17 Oakmont meeting, Tibbetts held a meeting for people who were interested in volunteering.
Eighty-five showed up.
“Honestly, I expected 10-12,” said Tibbetts.
Oakmonters have volunteered to help with intake, serving food, cooking food offsite, collecting donations, and more. They will also help lead activities for the residents of the shelter, as well as help canvass Oakmont neighborhoods to answer questions about the site and give out information.
“The people in Oakmont who are mobilized to support the Los Guilicos site are part of a larger sea change in the way ordinary residents think about homeless people,” said Adrienne Lauby, president of the board of directors for Sonoma Applied Village Services for the homeless.
“There’s been a huge increase in people taking time and resources to do something.”
A St. Vincent de Paul truck on the shelter site quickly filled up with donations such as sleeping bags, socks, toiletries, sheets, blankets, and more.
There is also a donation box at the Parish Center at Star of the Valley Catholic Church on White Oak Dr. in Oakmont.
The volunteer group, Acts of Kindness, also has been active in assisting shelter residents.
The placement of the shelter at Los Guilicos has had a ripple effect on a number of other activities and programs on the sprawling campus.
Nick Honey, Sonoma County Human Services Department Family, Youth and Children Division Director, said there were some obvious security concerns about the location given that the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home is right nearby. The center serves children who have been victims of abuse and neglect.
After meeting with Tibbetts, Honey said they have open lines of communication 24/7 and is hopeful any concerns can be mitigated by the security system the shelter has implemented already.
There are questions about the future of Funky Fridays, the popular summer music series that benefits Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Though in theory the shelter is to be removed by the end of April, Regional Parks staff said that given the potential uncertainty of the situation, Funky Fridays may take a hiatus this summer.
The shelter is placed on an overflow parking area used by Funky Fridays.
Also on the campus is the offices of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) which trains volunteers to help abused and neglected children navigate through the court system.”
“I have felt the excellent communications and leadership that Susan Gorin has provided has helped a lot, and I’m certainly sympathetic to the issues,” said CASA executive director Millie Gilson. “But for purposes of security and safety we have canceled all evening meetings until we have a better feeling for how this is going to pan out.”
Tibbetts and his staff have met with representatives of a number of tenants on the Los Guilicos campus to work on logistics and security concerns, including at Juvenile Hall, which is the main entity at Los Guilicos.
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