COVID-19 Homelessness Services
The City of Santa Rosa is working to support individuals experiencing homelessness to protect this vulnerable population and the community at large from greater spread of COVID-19. Following the Order of the Sonoma County Public Health Officer on March 17, 2020 and guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the City has taken several steps to address homelessness amid the coronavirus pandemic, including establishing a Safe Social Distance Program set up in an area of the parking lot at Finley Community Center. This site will be utilized to provide a temporary, managed social-distancing space for unsheltered populations through the duration of the Sonoma County Shelter in Place Order.
City Actions to Date to Address Homelessness During COVID-19
- May: Safe Social Distance Site in Area of Parking Lot at Finley Community Center
A section of the parking lot at Finley Community Center will be utilized to provide a temporary, managed social-distancing space for unsheltered populations. The site will provide space for 70 tents, with each tent accommodating an individual or couple. The parking lot space to be utilized is located between the Person Senior Wing and the Finley tennis courts; view aerial map. O ccupancy of the site began on May 18. The site is expected to operate through the duration of the Sonoma County Health Offer Shelter in Place Order.
- Mid-April: Motel rooms provided for unsheltered high-risk individuals
Following outreach and assessment, an additional 26 rooms at the Sandman Motel were provided to high-risk individuals who had been living in encampments within the City. Face masks were also distributed to individuals living in encampments.
- Mid-March: Motel rooms provided for high-risk residents of Sam Jones Homeless Shelter
45 high-risk residents of Samuel L. Jones Hall Homeless Shelter, aged 65 or older or with preexisting medical conditions, relocated to rooms at Sandman Motel. This action created social distancing space within the shelter and helped prevent vulnerable individuals from potential exposure to COVID-19. Based on national best practice, strict safety protocols have been implemented in all City-sponsored homeless service operations.
- Late March: Sanitation facilities provided for unsheltered individuals
In coordination with the County of Sonoma, portable toilets and hand washing stations were placed at or near known encampments within the City to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the City placed debris containers near these encampments.
What’s Next? Addressing Additional Needs for Social Distancing and Shelter
Updates on Homeless Support from the County of Sonoma Read about additional actions being taken by the County of Sonoma to protect those experiencing homelessness amid the public health emergency on the County's Homeless Support Information page.
Homelessness Amid COVID-19
Many community members have been asking questions and expressing concerns for the welfare of Santa Rosa’s homeless individuals amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as inquiring about current and potential impacts on the whole community. Following are answers to some of the frequently asked questions that we’ve been hearing;
Q1. Why are homeless encampments being allowed to remain in place during the COVID-19 emergency?
A. The City is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control, which advises against dispersing encampments to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Q2. Why is the Shelter in Place Order not being enforced for homeless individuals?
A. Persons experiencing homelessness are exempt from those portions of the Shelter-in-Place Order that require individuals to shelter in their place of residence. See Paragraph 6 of Sonoma County Health Officer Order No. C19-09. Individuals experiencing homelessness remain subject to the Order’s restrictions on public and private gatherings, travel and work activities. Individuals experiencing homelessness also remain subject to the Order’s Social Distancing and Hygiene Requirements, including requirements for facial coverings. These requirements are being addressed as resources permit.
Q3. Why is the City not doing more about people who are camping in or near our parks or other public spaces?
A. In addition to the CDC guidance against dispersing encampments, emergency shelter beds in the City are limited due to social distancing requirements. This limits the City’s ability to enforce laws against camping on public property per the terms of a Preliminary Injunction resulting from a Federal lawsuit brought against the City and County. Per the terms of the Preliminary Injunction, prior to arrest or citation for unlawful camping, the City and County must provide individuals within the encampment with the following: reasonable notice, an opportunity to be assessed for shelter and services, access to adequate shelter, storage of belongings, and a process to appeal a denial of any disability-related requests for reasonable accommodation.
Q4. What is being done during this public health emergency to ensure cleanliness and good hygiene within and near homeless encampments?
A. Portable toilets, handwashing stations and debris containers have been placed at or near known encampments within the City to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since City staffing has been reduced during the public health emergency, the City’s ability to further respond to encampments has been diminished.
Q5. What is being done to enforce laws within and near homeless encampments?
A. Being homeless is not a crime, but illegal behavior will be addressed by Police as resources permit. Illegal behavior should be reported to the Santa Rosa Police Department’s 24/7 non-emergency line at (707) 528-5222. For urgent matters call 911.
Q6. When will the City start working again to resolve homeless encampments within the City?
A. Efforts to resolve encampments throughout the City will resume once the immediate crisis-at-hand subsides, the Shelter-in-Place order is lifted, and adequate shelter options are available consistent with the terms of a Preliminary Injunction resulting from a Federal lawsuit brought against the City and County.
For up-to-date information on the City of Santa Rosa’s response to the coronavirus public health emergency, including resources for individuals experiencing homelessness, please visit SRCity.org/PreventTheSpread.