Cloverdale residents fear illegal campfires as homelessness grows

- Homelessness, rampant in the Bay Area's bigger cities, is exploding in small towns too. 

Case in point: Cloverdale, population 9,000, in northern Sonoma County. 

Some residents fear an illegal campfire is going to spark another firestorm like the one that ravaged Santa Rosa in October.  

"We barely have a food bank, there are no resources for them here," said Angela Cordova, who has been documenting the growing number of encampments near her home on Asti Road.

Cordova and her neighbors feel surrounded, and estimate as many as 100 homeless people are burrowed into the brush, along dormant railroad tracks, and a river park trail. 

"People are assaulted physically and verbally on the walking trails now," resident Todd Landz told KTVU, "and so residents are afraid to use it."  

Walking along the trail and tracks, there is evidence of several small grass fires. Residents say every one sends up alarm.

"If the brush caught on fire in the right conditions, it could take out all the homes on the east side of town," warned Landtz.

Critics say it's not just the number of homeless people, but the hostile, aggressive behavior of many. 
It took a visit from Cloverdale's police chief to get them to clear them out of a cemetery, where they had attached tents to tombstones.

"They made an encampment right on the shrine," described Cordova, " and it was so disrespectful, and people couldn't visit their loved ones." 

Fed up, and feeling that she was getting the run-around from a variety of agencies, Cordova took to Facebook, posting more than a dozen pictures detailing sanitation and safety issues.  

"I have three daughters, and we live minutes from these camps," said a frustrated Cordova.
"We used to ride our bikes on this trail and now we can't anymore."   

Friday afternoon, Cloverdale's city manager walked through a few camps with Cordova.

"Pretty shocking," admitted David Kelley, after observing filth and furniture, plus trespassing signs torn down in an area of private property with absentee owners.

Kelley explained clearing campers is difficult, in part because recent court rulings impose certain requirements on officials.  

"We have to give notice to the homeless and we're required to provide alternative housing for them," said Kelley, " and we're also required to store their possessions.  And it puts a large burden on a small city like Cloverdale." 

Most of the campers encountered by KTVU scattered at the sight of a camera, some saying they had warrants for their arrest. 

Sixty-year-old Mary Simoncini, who said she lost her subsidized housing when her husband died, cried describing her circumstances.

"What can I do?," said Simoncini, who said she is physically and mentally disabled. 

Asked if anyone had made an outreach effort to talk to her or help her?
"No, nobody,” Mary wept.  

It is a situation shared by so many municipalities, large and small.

Friday evening, as many Cloverdale residents enjoyed a weekly street festival and farmer's market, residents on the opposite side of the freeway continued to fume and feel forgotten. 

"They have no idea it's here because it's hidden," said Angela Cordova, "hidden in the bushes, on the trails, on the river, it's hidden. Out of sight, out of mind." 

The influx may be linked to a major homeless crackdown in Santa Rosa, which recently cleared a large camp and public trail.

Some of those displaced may have migrated a half hour north. 

The firestorm in October also reduced the region's housing stock significantly, which has also had a trickle-down effect, contributing to homelessness. 

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