Santa Rosa’s homeless community face winter weather and COVID

Besides all their other problems, the homeless community in Santa Rosa are being hit with a triple whammy of winter weather, the threat of COVID and no place to go.

One major shelter, which had to turn away newcomers, has done wonders to get itself ready to welcome more homeless folks back in. COVID threw Catholic Charities into a real crisis when the virus struck its biggest Santa Rosa shelter.

In the last several weeks, an already large, makeshift homeless camp on two Santa Rosa industrial streets has grown to a jumble of about 80 tents, lean-tos, vehicles and RVs.

"It's really hard out here because there's so many people who don't have anything at the moment," said homeless camp resident Blythe Stanley. Homelessness often means estrangement.

"I have a big family, but I don't talk to them anymore because I'm embarrassed and ashamed," said Ms. Stanley. Any help is much appreciated. "There are people who care. You know, Catholic Charities tries to do a lot for us," said Stanley.

In fact, Catholic Charities provides a large homeless shelter at Sam Jones Hall, owned by the city of Santa Rosa. To Catholic Charities' credit, the shelter had no COVID issues for almost all of 2020.

"Intensive training prior to admittance, symptom checks, we increased our daily cleaning to every two hours; did a lot of things to try to mitigate the issues of COVID-19," said Jennielynn Holmes of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa.

Those at highest risk for COVID taken out of the congregate setting and placed in individually socially distanced quarters. Then came the massive, nationwide Thanksgiving surge. "We had our first COVID positive case in one of our shelters in December, end of December, right around the Holidays," said Ms. Holmes.

As a result, the shelter had to stop taking new clients to protect the safety of those already there, causing much of the homeless camp growth. But, now a change for the better.

"We were able to contain it within just a few weeks of the initial exposure. So, we're looking forward to reopening and allowing participants to be able to get off the streets," said Holmes.

New folks to be admitted will be screened. If negative, they'll be admitted to the congregate population. Those with Covid will get isolated care and medical treatment. By providing space, under a court settlement, the city will be able move ahead  to downsize or eliminate the homeless camp

And, says Ms. Holmes, she has great respect and reverence for the relentlessly heroic shelter staff saying, "Even during this outbreak, they still showed up for work and did everything they could for their clients."

Catholic Charities says it's working hard to get their most vulnerable clients vaccinated as quickly as possible.