Homeless sweeps pending in Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa's homeless situation is coming to a head with sweeps coming in the next few weeks. 

Monday evening, a planning meeting filled the City Council chambers, with people emotional on all sides of the issue. 

"I'm held hostage in my own home," Catherine Dale, the Neighborhood Watch Coordinator for her Morgan Street neighborhood, said outside the session. "The needles, the defecation, the trash, right in front of our homes is ridiculous,. And we need safety." 

Morgan Street and the West End neighborhoods have a cluster of homeless service centers nearby, so feel the impacts most. 

Santa Rosa agencies, partnering with non-profits, will roll-out sweeps in several locations: Morgan Street, downtown 101 underpasses, Olive Park, and the Prince Memorial Greenway.

Police say Olive Park is plagued by drug use and dealing, especially in the public restroom. 

The Greenway is a walking path that runs more than a mile along the Santa Rosa Creek, providing woodsy cover for homeless campers. 

As officials discussed the impending sweeps, there were scattered boos and hisses heard in the audience, and an outburst: "there's 3,000 homeless, how many beds?" 

Homeless advocates were frustrated they could not voice their views directly. 

The audience was required to submit questions in writing, read aloud by a city staffer. 

"Well we don't have enought services and we don't have enough beds," Gail Simons of Homeless Action told KTVU, arguing that the city should provide sanctioned camp space with sanitation and security, or leave campers alone in the communities they create.   

"They help each other, in case of illness and with their belongings, but they can't do that if they're constantly moved from bush to bush, it's cruel," said Simons.  

Santa Rosa's Manager of Homeless Service reminded the crowd that public byways belong to everyone.

"We can't have people living on our sidewalks and on our trails," said Kelli Kuykendall.

Since 2017, Santa Rosa has cleared several camps, including so-called Homeless Hill, at the foot of Farmers Lane. 

That camp had persisted for years, until it was deemed an extreme fire hazard, along with health and safety violations. 

"Let's see if we can do a push to get people into services," said Santa Rosa Police Capt. John Cregan, outlining how campers will again get plenty of warning and outreach before being forcibly removed. "Our commitment is before we take any enforcement action, be able to offer them a place to stay, be able to have a bed for them."

Whether that's a shelter bed, hotel room, or transitional housing depends on the individual circumstances. 

"This is not one size fits all," said Jennielynn Holmes, Chief Program Officer for Catholic Charities.
"Every person's journey is very, very different."  

At the entrance to the Greenway, a camper suds-ing up in the public shower said she won't resist being moved indoors. 

"It's safer, because people have been getting killed over here, stabbed and shot and stuff," said Sabrina Lee Gulley Spurgeon, homeless for two years. 

Another camper, pushing a shopping cart down the path, said he relocated from Chicago only a year ago.

"Work with us and talk with us," said Edmund Wilson, " so it's not one side and one side, we should work together to come to an agreement."

The sweeps will happen gradually at a handful of locations, and be completed by the end of the month.