Eviction looms for more than 200 Santa Rosa homeless campers

Eviction looms for more than 200 homeless campers on a Santa Rosa trail, with uncertainty over where they will go.

Sonoma County has declared the encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail a health and safety hazard.

Even before the deadline of Jan 29, some campers have qualified for one option: tiny shelters.

East of Santa Rosa along Highway 12, a compound known as Los Guilicos Village is almost finished.  

Sixty pallet shelters, each 8 feet by 8 feet, will house people with privacy and security.

It is a first for Sonoma County. 

"It's still a drop in the bucket for what's needed," said Jack Tibbetts, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which will run the village.

"But at least we're investing in homelessness now in a way that we haven't before, and I think it's going to yield good results."

The village will have 24-hour security, showers, shipping containers to store overflow possessions, and dog runs for pets. 

""This won't clear the trail but it's one critical piece in a suite of solutions," said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, touring the facility Thursday afternoon. 

More shelter options will follow, as the neighborhoods near the trail complain of incessant noise, fires, theft and drug use.

They have long demanded the campers be evicted.   

"This is a step in the right direction, it allows people to come here and get stable and then move on to permanent supportive or affordable housing," said Hopkins. 

And for those who want to remain on the trail? 

"That will not be an option," said Hopkins. 

Signs are posted at the trailhead of the muddy two mile stretch of tarps and tents, warning that a sweep is coming. 

Some will happily accept a tiny cabin.  

"I like it better inside because you're not so cold and you're not having to worry about all your stuff being stolen," said Mary Simoncini, 62, who has been homeless for 14 years, and hopes to be one of the first to move to Los Guilicos. 

Others complain the village, nine miles out of downtown Santa Rosa, is too out-of-the-way, even with the shuttle buses being offered. 

Sobriety is required, along with other restrictions.  

"I'm on the list to go, and if they change some of the rules I'll go, but 7 pm curfew and no visitors ? That's like being in jail, no thank you," said trail resident Tina Hood, 49, homeless off and on for 27 years. 

The rules helped to reassure residents of the Oakmont retirement community, which sits directly across Highway 12 from the huts. 

"I'm hearing people say they're tired and want to go to rehab," observed advocate Rochelle Roberts, who formed a Facebook group in November dedicated to homeless outreach. 

With 2,500 members, "Sonoma County Acts of Kindness" coordinates volunteers, donations, and support for the trail residents, and will be preparing meals for the guests at the new village. 

Roberts worries about there are still more than 100 people without somewhere to go, and time slipping away. 

"I don't understand, why not the fairgrounds?", she posed, "because the fairgrounds are for emergencies and this is an emergency, these are human beings." 

Outreach workers continue to canvass the trail daily, assessing people's needs and trying to match them with a shelter, hotel, or other service before next week's sweeps.  

Los Guilicos will only operate for 90 days, then shift to a more permanent location, still to be selected.