Imperfect vs. impossible
The day we went to print last time was the same day we learned of the plan to move some homeless people from the Joe Rodota Trail to an emergency shelter at the Los Guilicos complex across from Oakmont. Needless to say, there’s been a lot do in between then and now. We’ve been to meetings, talked to the people in charge, including Supervisor Susan Gorin and Jack Tibbetts from St. Vincent de Paul, and many of you.
As often happens when a new idea comes along, people tend to envision worst-case scenarios. This isn’t a criticism; it’s just the way the human mind processes a perceived threat. Back in the days before there was a stoplight in Kenwood, people envisioned gridlock on the highway at the idea of a traffic signal. They talked about traffic backed up on Warm Springs Road and Los Guilicos as hordes of cars waited for a green light. Everyone was suddenly a traffic engineer. We remember because we were there.
So when it comes to accommodating the homeless in our neighborhood, we all need to take a deep breath. This plan may work out, or it may not. But for the first time in forever, the County is actually trying to do something significant rather than just wring its collective hands. Besides offering a minimal shelter, St. Vincent de Paul will be providing services to the residents, all of whom will have gone through a screening and intake process elsewhere. The reasons for homelessness are myriad, and many people won’t want to come to the Los Guilicos Village, as it’s called. But for those that do, it could be a lifesaver, as it’s a step toward moving into permanent supportive housing.
It’s easy to say we’re all a bunch of NIMBYs, but that’s not actually true. At the standing-room-only meeting at Berger Center in Oakmont, there were many people whose question was, “How can we help?” Oakmont and Kenwood are full of well-intentioned, complicated individuals, and it’s OK to voice your concerns and fears. But when you envision the worst-case scenario, you need to also envision the best-case scenario, because somewhere in between is usually how things turn out.
Homelessness in Sonoma County is not going away. Not until we have a lot more affordable housing, and even then there will be people with mental illnesses and drug addiction who will fall through the cracks and end up on the streets. But it’s time to begin working on this problem and stop being so afraid of affordable housing in our midst. The Elnoka proposal west of Oakmont on Highway 12 has been through a number of iterations, one of which included affordable housing for seniors, and even that got sent back to the drawing board. People said, “it’s not close to services,” “there’s no public transportation,” “there are better places for low-income housing.” These are not insurmountable issues. For starters, the City of Santa Rosa and the County will have to provide better transportation. That’s not impossible.
Just because something is not perfect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try.