Emergency Shelter Sites FAQ
View the March 9, 2023 press release announcing the selection of the emergency shelter site on the County Government Campus »
Homeless encampments along Joe Rodota Trail and elsewhere in Sonoma County have become a persistent health and safety issue. The unmanaged encampments have created public hazards and impeded accessibility to public areas; left dangerous debris, including biohazards such as used needles; and pose a fire risk, particularly in areas with heavy brush. They often pose a health hazard for the occupants of these camps themselves.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Feb. 21, 2023, to declare a shelter crisis and authorized the creation of up to two emergency sites to shelter people experiencing homelessness. An emergency shelter site would provide a safe, managed place for homeless individuals to camp while supporting them with wrap-around services on their path to permanent housing.
County staff has selected a parking lot at 2550 Ventura Ave. on the County Government Center campus as the location for an emergency shelter site where space for up to 90 tents will be provided for homeless individuals to live temporarily while transitioning into permanent housing. The county has not determined at this time whether a second emergency shelter site will be needed.
Five public webinars were held to provide additional information and answer public questions and concerns. A recording of all five webinars is available on this page as well as on the County’s Facebook page and YouTube channel in English and Spanish.
May 24, 2023 webinar recording
On This Page
Public Webinar Recordings
April 24, 2023
April 10, 2023
March 13, 2023
February 24, 2023
February 27, 2023
Why is the county creating one or more emergency shelter sites?
A top priority of the Board of Supervisors is to provide a long-term solution for the unsheltered population throughout the county, including those currently camping on the Joe Rodota Trail. This requires not just shelter but other supportive services such as food, security, employment training, housing readiness, and mental and behavioral health services. Additionally, in a 2019 decision (Martin v. Boise), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that local governments cannot enforce laws prohibiting camping on public property unless there are alternative locations on public property where individuals are lawfully allowed to sleep, the individuals have been offered adequate shelter, or the individuals otherwise have the means to acquire shelter.
Is there shelter space and other housing available?
Currently, there are not enough interim housing units available to offer to every unsheltered person camped along the Joe Rodota Trail. This is the impetus for creating one or more emergency shelter sites on county-owned property.
What has the county done to increase housing for the unsheltered?
The County of Sonoma, service providers, housing developers, and Sonoma County cities have completed and are working on several projects that add to the region’s inventory of interim and permanent supportive housing. These include, but are not limited to:
- Six “Project Homekey” sites located in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol and Healdsburg. Two more are underway in Petaluma and the lower Russian River area.
- Petaluma’s Peoples Village, a non-congregate shelter site.
- Sebastopol’s Horizon Shine Village, a location for about 18 individuals or couples housed in recreational vehicles (RVs) or cars.
- Catholic Charities’ Caritas Center, a location for family shelter, individual shelter, and medical respite, added about 60 interim units in total (Caritas’ 200 new units replaced 138 beds at Catholic Charities’ old facility). Caritas Homes will also include another 30 units of homeless-dedicated permanent housing as early as July 2023 at the same location.
- Homeless Action Sonoma’s Home and Safe Village, a new interim housing site under development in the Sonoma Valley.
Overall the region has added (or will soon add) about 521 total beds, including 422 beds in non-congregate shelters or interim housing, and up to 99 beds in permanent supportive housing units.
The county opened something similar at Los Guilicos in the Sonoma Valley in 2020. Was that effective and is it still operating?
Los Guilicos Village is still in operation today and has served more than 260 individuals since it was opened in early 2020, with an average stay of six to nine months. Los Guilicos continues to serve as a place for unhoused persons to stabilize and receive case management and related behavioral and physical health care. It has led to placements in permanent housing, although our region’s shortage of permanent supportive housing units can hinder further success.
What is the county doing in the long-term to prevent future encampments on Joe Rodota Trail and elsewhere?
In an effort to prevent further encampments, the county has invested in long-term solutions to the housing crisis. Over the past two years, the county has expended and matched available resources with projects like Project Homekey, safe parking and local housing developments. This year two more Homekey sites are expected to be operational in Petaluma and Guerneville. Additional details about the county’s efforts to expand the supply of housing can be found on the Community Development Commission webpage.
Operation of emergency shelter sites
Which site will open first?
County staff has selected a parking lot at 2550 Ventura Ave. on the County Government Center campus as the location for an emergency shelter site. The county has not determined at this time whether a second emergency shelter site will be needed. If a second site is needed, staff has recommended placing it in a portion of the rear parking area at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, located at 1351 Maple Ave.
How many people are staying at the County Government Center site?
Visit http://demacm.com/ess/ for weekly updates on the number of current residents and other statistics on the site. The data is updated on Fridays.
Will there be rules and security at the emergency shelter locations?
Yes. Rules and standards will be implemented and enforced to protect the safety and security of shelter residents and the surrounding neighborhood. Site management will include, but not be limited to, 24/7 security, safety fencing, sanitation, quiet hours, and visiting hours. The sites will be “Housing First,” meaning that a person does not have to be in recovery to reside there. However, alcohol and drugs will be prohibited. Any illegal activity may result in eviction and arrest. Case management onsite will also be “housing-focused,” meaning that an essential part of daily activities will be preparing for the person’s next housing step.
What are the Site Rules and “Good Neighbor” policy?
The Site Rules will be similar to those used at other County shelter sites and the Good Neighbor Policies will be similar to other operations, such as the Santa Rosa safe parking site. They will include:
- All program participants are expected to be courteous to each other, to service provider partners, and to area residents during this program.
- Participants must follow and observe the quiet hours and avoid noise accordingly.
- Visitors will abide by the visitor hours unless prior permission has been given by Staff. All visitors must be checked in by security.
- Program decisions will be made with the adjacent neighborhoods in mind.
- Residents may not loiter in adjacent neighborhoods. Our service providers and security teams will ensure site rules are followed.
- Residents with dogs in the emergency shelter and around the area must have dogs on leash (6’ or less) and must carry bags to remove the dog waste. Aggressive dogs will not be allowed to remain at this location.
- All participants will be held to the good neighbor policy. Violation of this policy will jeopardize their continued participation in the program.
Will security be in the neighborhood?
Security staff are intended to provide security to the emergency shelter site and its participants. Security staff may find reason to leave the site and enter neighborhoods, but their role and abilities at that point is limited, as they have the same power as any citizen when off-site. County staff will follow this issue closely and work with local law enforcement, security, a site’s service provider, and others to ensure that surrounding neighborhoods are safe.
Will background checks be conducted for those who choose to move to the Emergency Shelter Sites?
Yes. Individuals will be screened prior to being assigned to the emergency shelters. Screening includes identifying and excluding those with convictions for violent and/or sexual offenses.
Will drugs and alcohol be allowed on the premises?
No drugs or alcohol will be permitted at the emergency shelter sites. Smoking will be permitted in internal designated areas.
What will happen to those occupants at the shelter sites who violate the rules and are asked to leave?
Any occupants who violate the agreed-upon rules will be transported by van to a safe location where they would like to go within Sonoma County.
Will there be an easy way for neighbors to report complaints and provide feedback to site management and the county?
To contact the County with general questions or feedback about the site, please email TemporaryShelters@sonoma-county.org.
Any illegal activity, either on-site or off-site, should be reported directly to the Santa Rosa Police Department. For other issues that require immediate attention, please contact the following:
Defense Block Security
Denise Little, director of operations
email@example.com or (707) 843-7194
DEMA Consulting & Management
Michelle Patino, owner
Sonoma County Homelessness Services Division
Dave Kiff, director: firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 565-4090
James Alexander, program manager: email@example.com
We also will begin a neighborhood dialogue on a regular and repeating basis to ensure that area residents have an opportunity to address questions and concerns. If you would like to be notified of upcoming meetings, please email your contact information to TemporaryShelters@sonoma-county.org
What will be the hours and quiet hours, access policy, smoking policy and pets policy for the sites?
- Preliminarily, visitor hours will be between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Visitors must check in with security before entering an emergency shelter site.
- Quiet hours will be observed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
- Smoking will be allowed in designated areas only.
- Site residents will be able to have their pets, provided that the pets are well-behaved, vaccinated, and on leash while in site common areas and around the site.
What services will be provided at an emergency shelter site?
- Case management services that provide behavioral and physical health care, housing assistance, job training, and document-readiness and benefit eligibility to secure Medi-Cal, CalFresh, SSI, and related benefits if eligible.
- Snacks will be available throughout the day as well as one full meal per day.
- The sites will have showers, restrooms, and hand-washing stations.
- Observance of quiet hours and rules that occupants must follow.
Will community volunteers be allowed to bring supplies, food, and comfort to the gates?
Yes, and we welcome the help and interaction. Volunteers and neighbors will be welcome to the site during visitor hours. Visit http://demacm.com/ess/ to schedule an appointment to drop off donations.
Who will manage the emergency shelter site?
The site will be managed by DEMA, a local service provider, under contract with the county.
What will be the maximum capacity for an emergency shelter site?
This is to be determined and is based on fire codes, building codes, and proper site control, client care, and management.
What wrap-around services will be provided on-site?
Wrap-around services include behavioral health care, physical health care, substance use disorder counseling, housing navigation (getting a person ready for housing), housing location (helping a person find housing), benefit and document readiness (ensuring that clients are not missing our on some assistance they are eligible for), job training, and more.
Are residents going to receive any job training or help with obtaining employment?
Yes. We expect several of the residents to already be actively employed, and others will receive help with job training, interview training, proper work attire, and transportation.
What about emergency responses on site?
Like any residential location, emergency medical events will result in calls to Santa Rosa Fire and ambulance providers. This happens today with unhoused, non-managed encampments. The structure of this encampment, where case managers are working closely with residents’ health issues before they become acute, should help lower emergency medical calls overall.
Why is the County considering these two locations?
We prioritized County-owned sites, in part because of the rapidity at which we could stand up the emergency shelters. These sites are also within biking and transit distance to major employment, college, and services.
Why can’t you expand some other places you already have set up?
Today we don’t have the capacity in any existing site. However, as these sites are in operation, we are likely to look at existing or alternative sites for flexibility and possible expansion as these emergency sites are phased out.
Which emergency shelter site will open first?
County staff have selected a parking lot at 2550 Ventura Ave. on the County Government Center campus to be the first emergency shelter to open. The county has not determined at this time whether a second emergency shelter site will be needed.