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Los Guilicos homeless shelter likely to continue

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has directed county staff to look into extending the emergency homeless shelter at the Los Guilicos complex past its original April 30 goal for removal.

The directive came at a March 10 meeting where the various agencies working on homeless issues gave an update on how the emergency shelter, known as Los Guilicos Village, was operating, as well as detailing six potential sites for two more long-term, indoor/outdoor shelters.

The indoor/outdoor shelters are considered the next phase for housing the homeless, part of a $12 million county outlay to help people who want to get off the street and eventually move into what’s referred to as “permanent supportive housing.” Permanent supportive housing is believed to be the best way to get people back on their feet and address the myriad problems surrounding homelessness, which can include addiction, mental health, and economic issues.

According to a 2019 homeless count, Sonoma County has about 3,000 homeless individuals.

In its March 10 update on the 60-unit shelter, staff reported there were 59 people on the housing site, which was erected earlier this year off of Pythian Road on an empty parking lot. Individuals came there voluntarily from the huge homeless encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail, which has since been cleared by the county.

The shelter is across from Oakmont, and when it was selected, a number of residents expressed concerns about security and safety, fire risk, the remoteness of the site from services, the effect on property values, and whether the shelter would really be temporary. Some residents have been active volunteers at the shelter, collecting clothes and toiletries, and helping with food service.

At Los Guilicos, on-site social services help residents with such things as mental health and addiction issues, the search for more permanent housing, job search support, and steps toward economic stability. Health care providers are on site five days a week. Staff has helped residents fill out paperwork for state and federal services, such as Medi-Cal and Social Security.

The facility is fenced, has security, and provides a shuttle for residents to go to and from Santa Rosa.

Since occupants started moving in back in late January, 19 have left, nine who did not return to the site, and 10 who left due to behavioral issues.

One incident that occurred was when a resident started a small fire inside one of the tiny huts. It was put out by staff of the nonprofit operating Los Guilicos Village, St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP). There has also been one physical altercation between two residents.

To construct and operate the emergency shelter through April 30 is costing the county $2.9 million, including a $390,000 contract for SVDP.

After the March 10 supervisors meeting, it seemed very likely the county would keep the shelter operating after April 30, with supervisors citing its successful operation so far.

When the supervisors first selected the Los Guilicos location earlier this year, it was over the strong objections of First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who argued the site was too remote and too close too vulnerable populations also at the Los Guilicos complex, such as the Valley of the Moon Children’s Center.

Gorin was still outnumbered by the four other supervisors at the March 10 meeting, as the board asked county staff to come back on April 4 with details on the cost and logistics of keeping Los Guilicos Village open, and for how long.

“I think it should stay,” said Supervisor James Gore. “I think we should keep it. I’m not saying permanent or forever, but it gives some continuity,” to the residents living there.

Echoing Gore, Supervisor Shirlee Zane, said, “I think it should continue, absolutely, and I think we need to take a look at it after six months and see how it’s doing.”

The board also asked staff to do more study on three locations (the board will pick two) for the more long-term indoor/outdoor shelters, all county-owned land in Santa Rosa. They are a 1.3-acre parcel off of Chanate Road, a 1.8-acre parking lot on the county government campus, and a location at the fairgrounds near where Highway 12 and Highway 101 meet.

Public speakers at the meeting varied in their opinions on the indoor/outdoor sites being discussed, as well as any continuation of Los Guilicos Village after April 30.

One speaker raised concern about future fire risk at the shelter, since it sits in the shadow of a forested area. Others said the board should stick with the April 30 deadline as was originally planned.

One Oakmonter who volunteered at the shelter said things were going well, so why make changes.

“Basically, my bottom line is to keep Los Guilicos for as long as it is needed.”

The board even heard from a resident of the shelter, Kevin Jones, who had come to Los Guilicos from the Joe Rodota Trail.

“Since I have been at Los Guilicos, I’ve had success,” said Jones. “I’ve gotten a job, I have cleaned up my life. It’s been remarkable. It has helped me and I’m sure it can help a lot of others. I hope you guys extend it.”

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