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Measure O Newsletter Summer 2023

Measure O Newsletter banner for Summer 2023 edition

Measure O funds are making incredible impacts in our community, and I am excited to share this update with you. This past year marked our first full annual report approved by our Citizens’ Oversight Committee and the Board of Supervisors, and it highlights upcoming projects, how lives have been changed, and how services are being strengthened, expanded and augmented for those needing mental health and housing support in our community. I invite you to read that report here.  

In this issue of our Measure O newsletter, you will read about new funding for mental health services in our schools, additional support for mobile crisis teams who are there for us in times of great need, and the powerful impact of Measure O funds on our unsheltered population.  I want to express deep gratitude for the partnership with so many service providers, first responders, the medical community and law enforcement who create this village of support – Sonoma County is fortunate to have this network of care. 

Thank you for your interest in Measure O. We are proud to steward these funds and share this update with you.

Tina Rivera, Director, Department of Health Services
Tina Rivera, Director, Department of Health Services

Sonoma County Supervisors approve $1.5 million to fund crisis responders

SAFE team member and InRESPONSE vanSAFE team member and InRESPONSE van

On May 16, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved $1.5 million of Measure O funds for mobile crisis teams, which respond to emergency calls for behavioral health crises that do not require law enforcement. The board also directed the Department of Health Services to expand the program countywide by the end of the year.

Mobile crisis teams operate in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Cotati, and the unincorporated county. The board approved $514,000 for Santa Rosa’s inRESPONSE team, $500,000 for Petaluma’s SAFE program, and an additional $500,000 for the SAFE team in Rohnert Park and Cotati.

“When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, they need a specialist who understands the situation,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “A dedicated team of behavioral health first responders is vital in these situations, and we are proud to support these services.”

The SAFE team responds to nearly 450 calls per month. Their goal is to avoid a law enforcement response while assisting individuals to access community support. The inRESPONSE program had more than 2,300 calls for service in 2022. Santa Rosa Police Department has seen a 16 percent decrease in mental health calls since implementing the program.

“InRESPONSE saw me when I was in my dark spot, and they were patient and compassionate and helped me calm down instead of picking me up off the street and throwing me in the back of a police car. The extra effort that they provided… helped me get over the ladder between the chasm and the cliff.
--Individual Served by inRESPONSE
We’ve reduced the frequency of ER visits …the duration of the visits…the frequency of arrests for some people who are frequent police contacts, and … helped to repair relationships between clients and existing service providers.”
--Manning Walker, SAFE Program Manager

The state is requiring that counties provide community-based mobile crisis intervention services to eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries experiencing a behavioral health crisis by the end of the year. The county has been working to expand the Mobile Support Team and create a regional model for the past several years. “We are in discussions to pool all of our resources to ensure that we are addressing any gaps in all of our cities and unincorporated areas,” said Tina Rivera, director of the Department of Health Services. “It is absolutely going to take a village.”

With board direction, behavioral health staff will continue the work of building a regional collaboration.

Community Forum on Mental Health

Panel of community members and Supervisor James Gore at event
Panel of community members and Supervisor James Gore at event

Attendees watching May Mental Health Forum event
Attendees watching May Mental Health Forum event

On May 2, 2023, Measure O was a proud sponsor of the Community Forum on Mental Health, put on by the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.  The forum brought together service providers from across the county for a community conversation discussing crisis services, suicide prevention, substance use disorder treatment services, workforce development and more.

The forum had four sessions, each with panels moderated by a county supervisor. The four sessions included:

Session 1: Substance Use Disorder Treatment Services and the Opioid Crisis
Session 2: Mental Health and Wellness needs
Session 3: Crisis Services and Suicide Prevention
Session 4: Workforce Challenges and Solutions

The forum brought nearly 300 people together virtually and in-person to discuss the current state of mental health and addiction in Sonoma County.  The devastating effects of COVID-19 was a theme throughout. "There was so much loneliness," said Sonoma County Department of Health Services Director Tina Rivera. "That's one of the things we're learning here in these panels, is the impacts of loneliness and isolation that we saw, that had such impacts on our mental health."

Other important topics included the mental health of children and youth. "The Centers for Disease Control has said that young people are experiencing more sadness and hopelessness than they've ever seen before," said county mental health consultant Jasmin Flores. "But most people are, like, well, why is that happening?" Flores said the pandemic interrupted normal social development by forcing kids to communicate with each other electronically. "When you're behind the screen, you almost become a little bit automated," said Flores. "You don't have to have interactions and discussions with people the way you do when you're actually in front of someone."

And it's not just the kids. Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said internet communication has ramped up social anger, giving anyone and everyone a political megaphone. "Is all this communication literally driving us crazy? Um, it's a good question," said Coursey. "I don't think that it's driving us crazy, but it's making people more anxious. It's making people feel differently about themselves and about the world."

Workforce challenges also play a huge role in our response to, and the state of our mental health crisis, and Sonoma County service providers are feeling the loss of staff every day.  "In the midst of this pandemic and the multiple disasters and the increases in all of these areas, we began to see professionals say, 'I'm done, you know, I can't do this anymore,'" Rivera said. 

Participants were able to provide a myriad of creative solutions to address concerns about the availability and connectivity of services in the county.  The Department of Health Services is currently theming the responses and will be creating a Measure O-funded grant program to put some of these ideas into action. If you would like to watch a recording of the forum, you can access that here.

Annual Point-in-Time count shows 22 percent decrease in homelessness

Los Guilicos Shelter Village for people experiencing homelessness
Los Guilicos Shelter Village for people experiencing homelessness

Sonoma County saw an overall 22 percent decrease in the area’s homeless population last year including a 24 percent decline in those identified as being chronically homeless, according to preliminary results of the 2023 Sonoma County Point-in-Time (PIT) count in January. 

The annual one-day snapshot found a total of 2,266 individuals experiencing some form of homelessness. The official results from the 2022 count found 2,893 homeless individuals. The 22 percent decrease in homelessness is the largest reduction since a 27 percent decrease in 2015. The 2023 PIT Count occurred on Friday, Jan. 27.

Unlike the 2022 count, the 2023 census was conducted in a manner similar to pre-COVID counts. All deployments were in person, and maps were chosen ahead of time by city and nonprofit partners in all areas of the county where individuals experiencing homelessness were known to be. Community volunteers also were involved in selecting maps to ensure countywide coverage.

The PIT count is based on visual observations of unsheltered individuals and groups, as well as a census of people in shelters, and as a result, only provides a snapshot of homelessness during a single point in time. It is a valuable count, but county officials note that it may not adequately reflect the total number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the year.

“Unsheltered” individuals are defined as those who live in a place not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings. “Sheltered” homelessness pertains to those who live in an emergency shelter or transitional housing.

“These numbers are incredibly encouraging and are a reflection of the hard work of many across Sonoma County who, through innovative programs and partnerships, are helping homeless residents get off the streets,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey. “These efforts, including the passage of Measure O by county voters, are truly making a difference and changing lives. As the report notes we have more work to do but we are moving in the right direction.”

Preliminary results are in line with an overall downward trend since 2011, with the exception being in early 2022 when, during a COVID pandemic surge, the county saw a 5 percent increase in homelessness. Projects such as Homekey, new safe parking and interim housing sites, housing vouchers and rental assistance have continued to play a pivotal role in the decrease throughout Sonoma County. “This progress comes from focus and coordination,” said Tina Rivera, Director of the Department of Health Services.  “The county team and our partner cities have pushed hard to place more housing units in operation and to provide strong supportive services to help keep people housed. While we’re thankful for these numbers, we still have 2,266 people to move into housing.”

The number of homeless individuals in unsheltered circumstances decreased from 2,088 in 2022 to 1,291 in 2023. Conversely, the number of individuals in sheltered circumstances increased from 805 in 2022 to 975 in 2023. The reduction in unsheltered individuals reflects an overall increase in the number of beds available at new housing projects in the county. 

Some of the housing programs that came online between the 2022 and 2023 counts are:

Project Homekey:

  • L&M Village in Healdsburg with 22 units, which opened in November 2022 as an interim housing site. 
  • Labath Landing in Rohnert Park with 60 units, which opened in October 2022 as an interim housing site.
  • Caritas Center in Santa Rosa began accepting clients in October 2022, including 40 units of interim housing

New Interim or Non-Congregate Shelter:

  • Horizon Shine, a safe parking location in Sebastopol that shelters 18 persons.
  • Petaluma People’s Village, an NCS shelter in Petaluma (25 units).
  • The Roberts Lake managed encampment, an NCS location in Rohnert Park (up to 60 persons sheltered at one time).
  • Santa Rosa’s safe parking location at its city field office (up to 50 RV or car spaces)

A more detailed breakdown of the count by cities and regions, as well as demographic data, will be made available this summer.

Sonoma County supervisors approve $250,500 in mental health funding for students; additional funding set to be approved later

Teen girlTeen girl

On April 18, 2023, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved $250,500 of Measure O funding to provide behavioral health services in schools in partnership with the Sonoma County Office of Education.

“After years of school disruptions for wildfires and the isolation of the pandemic, students in Sonoma County report feeling stress and anxiety with nowhere to go for mental health help,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “Thanks to Measure O, we are able to provide mental health services directly to the students who have the most need.”

The behavioral health school partnership will fund four new county positions for the initial phase. Over the long term, the program will provide school-based behavioral health support and interventions to schools in Sonoma County. Aspects of the program include:

  • Providing schools direct access to county behavioral health staff in order to expedite referrals
  • Creating four mental health teams, which will be strategically located around the county while providing consultation service by phone for school districts not in those service areas
  • Offering training for school staff in identifying students who may be experiencing behavioral health symptoms
  • Providing consultation with schools regarding students experiencing urgent behavioral health issues
  • Reinstituting in-person response to students experiencing a behavioral health crisis
  • Linking to substance use disorder treatment services for youth and young adults

A program to address youth substance use disorder is also being developed with assistance from $2.4 million in Measure O funds. Additional funding for mental health support for students is expected to be approved later during a supplemental budgetary process.

Alonso’s Story

Open doors at Labath Landing
Open doors at Labath Landing

Alonso lived in Rohnert Park for a decade before falling on hard times and becoming homeless in 2012. He didn’t want to live on the street, but it was the only option he had. He wanted to get his life back but faced barriers accessing services, including his two wonderful emotional support dogs. Many shelters do not accept pets or support animals. Alonso could not face separating from them.

Last year, Alonso found a place to stay at the Roberts Lake encampment in Rohnert Park and was one of the first people to move into Labath Landing in October 2022.  Labath Landing is a 60-unit interim housing program for people experiencing homelessness, funded in part by Measure O funding as part of Project Homekey. Along with safe shelter, program participants receive on-site supportive services like mental health counseling and job training to help them gain stability and move on to their own permanent homes. Alonso was grateful to have his own private space with a door that locked, and access to these important services.

In March, Alonso and his dogs moved into an apartment in Santa Rosa through the Master Lease Permanent Supportive Housing program. Alonso doesn’t plan on staying in the Master Lease program forever. Once he can increase his income, he wants to rent an apartment on his own. He is a trained massage therapist and dreams of operating his own massage practice one day.

Through Rohnert Park’s homeless service programs, Alonso was able to get back into a home of his own and on with his life. 

The Sonoma County Behavioral Health Department is always open. If you're concerned that you or someone you care about is currently in mental health distress or experiencing a substance-use issue, you can call the County's 24-hour, confidential phoneline at:

1 (707) 565-7450

 For more information regarding Measure O, please contact us at: