Safe Social Distancing Program

Parking Lot Site at Finley Community Center


In May 2020, the City of Santa Rosa established a Safe Social Distancing Program in the City-owned parking lot at Finley Community Center for temporary use by vulnerable unsheltered individuals amid the coronavirus pandemic. To help answer questions about the program, the following FAQs have been developed and will continue to be updated as we receive additional questions from the community.

The Safe Social Distancing Program consists of 68 tents, with each tent accommodating an individual or couple. Occupancy of the site began on May 18, 2020. The site is expected to operate through the duration of the Sonoma County Shelter in Place Order. Click the following buttons for further program information.

  1. General Questions
  2. Site & Program Operations
  3. Public Safety

General Questions about the Program

Q1. What is the Safe Social Distancing Program?
A. The City of Santa Rosa is working on efforts to ensure unsheltered individuals are maintaining proper social distancing. To that end, a section of the parking lot at Finley Community Center located at 2060 West College Avenue, will be utilized to provide a temporary, managed social-distancing space for unsheltered populations amid the COVID-19 emergency. The site will provide space for 70 tents, with each tent accommodating an individual or couple. The 24,600 square foot parking lot space to be utilized is located between the Person Senior Wing building and the Finley tennis courts; see site location at SRCity.org/FinleySafeDistancingSite.

The Program will not be used to provide shelter for symptomatic individuals or those pending COVID-19 test results.

Q2. When will this site be operational and how long will it be in operation?
A. Setup of the Safe Social Distance Program is anticipated to begin the week of May 11th with occupancy anticipated to begin the week of May 18th. The site is expected to operate through the duration of the Sonoma County Health Officer’s Shelter in Place Order.

Q3. What is the City’s plan for ensuring closure of the Program once the Shelter in Place Order is lifted?  A.  The Program is being established as a temporary measure.  To that end, planning is underway to restore shelter capacity at the city-owned Samuel L. Jones Hall Homeless Shelter, which was reduced to allow for proper social distancing, as well as shelter options for individuals placed at the Program site.  These efforts include coordination with the County of Sonoma to evaluate post-pandemic shelter needs throughout the County.  

Q4. Will individuals who relocate to this site be indoors or will they be living outdoors? What do the site set-ups look like?
A. The Finley Community Center parking lot site will provide space for 70 tents, with each tent accommodating an individual or couple. The tents will be spaced 12-feet apart to achieve social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in its interim guidance for unsheltered populations.  The site will include perimeter fencing, portable toilets and hand-washing stations, refuse containers, a staff tent, and designated common areas. 

Q5. What agencies are involved in this Program?
A. The City of Santa Rosa will provide the tents for this Program, along with funding to provide portable toilets, hand-washing stations, meals, on-site management, and security. Catholic Charities will provide services coordination and on-site management for the Program.

Q6. What is the City doing to address homelessness during the COVID-19 public health emergency?
A. 
In addition to the safe social distancing site at Finley, previous actions have been taken by the City to first place those sheltered and unsheltered individuals at the greatest risk of susceptibility to COVID-19 in hotel rooms. Based on national best practice, strict safety protocols have been implemented in all City-sponsored homeless service operations. 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. The City also placed debris containers near these encampments and provided face masks to individuals living in encampments.

Q7. If the City has already placed “at risk” or “high risk” individuals into hotel rooms, why the parking lot at the Finley Community Center and not more hotel rooms?
A. The City’s use of hotel rooms for Non-Congregate Shelter (NSC) was an interim measure to provide a safe alternative for sheltered and unsheltered individuals at the greatest risk of susceptibility to COVID-19.  Since that time, the County of Sonoma has made available NCS at Sonoma State University (SSU) for high risk individuals experiencing homelessness.  High risk individuals will first be referred to NCS at Sonoma State University before being offered a placement at the Safe Social Distancing Program.

Q8.  How was the decision made to establish the site?  Why the parking lot at the Finley Community Center and not at other parking lots or parks?  Were nearby businesses, residences, and the preschool taken into consideration when selecting the site?
A.  The City conducted an analysis of all City-owned parking lots for the development of a Safe Social Distancing Program. This included consultation with a subcommittee of the Santa Rosa City Council, comprised of Mayor Schwedhelm and Council Member Dowd.  Based on staff’s analysis and recommendation, direction of the subcommittee, and pursuant to the City’s Local Emergency Proclamation approved on March 3, 2020 in response to the community health threat posed by COVID-19, Finley was selected as the preferred site for the Program.  

Each site that was evaluated presented unique constraints and opportunities, including taking into consideration proximity to commercial districts, residential areas, and childcare facilities.  A portion of the Finley Community Center parking lot was selected as the preferred site for the Program based on the following reasons: 1) the facility is currently closed to the public due to the shelter in place order; 2) the size of the parking lot which can accommodate the Program and achieve social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as providing ample parking with the gradual re-opening of parks countywide; and 3) input from Police and Fire regarding health, safety, and visibility.

Q9. Why was the Sonoma County Fairgrounds not considered as a site for the Safe Social Distancing Program? What about the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) or another site that is more centrally located?
A.  The fairgrounds property is owned by the County of Sonoma and decisions regarding its use are subject to the discretion of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. On March 10, 2020 the Board of Supervisors selected three sites for the future development of indoor-outdoor shelters, including Chanate Hall, Permit Sonoma parking lot, and a section of the fairgrounds near Aston Avenue. These plans have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The County is currently using 10 trailers provided by the State at the fairgrounds for temporary shelter in response to COVID-19.

With respect to SRJC or a more centrally located site, the City focused on city-owned property in order to act swiftly in response to the current emergency circumstances.

Q10. How are the City and County working together to address homelessness during the current public health emergency, including coordination with Health Officer Mase regarding the Safe Social Distancing Program?
A. City staff are participating in the County of Sonoma Department Operation Center (DOC) Homeless Task Force, formed in response to COVID-19, which also includes representation from the smaller cities in Sonoma County.  City efforts include coordination with the County to evaluate post-pandemic shelter needs throughout the County.  While the County of Sonoma and Dr. Mase were only recently made aware of the City’s Safe Social Distancing Program, County staff have expressed support for the Program.  

Beyond the immediate crisis, the City and County work together on the issue of homelessness in a variety of ways, including through Home Sonoma County, Sonoma County’s homeless system of care. The goal of Home Sonoma County is to achieve Functional Zero Homelessness in Sonoma County using a Housing First model. The countywide effort is governed by a nine-member Leadership Council responsible for allocating funds to local homeless services programs. The Council consists of local elected officials and individuals with lived homeless experience and is advised by Task Groups comprising its 25-member Technical Advisory Committee. 

For more information about County Homeless Support during COVID-19: https://socoemergency.org/emergency/novel-coronavirus/resources-for-you/homeless-support/.

For more information about Home Sonoma County: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/CDC/Homeless-Services/Home-Sonoma-County/

Q11. What notification has been done to inform residents and businesses near the site? 
A.  The neighborhood and community at-large have been notified via the following outlets:

  • A virtual community meeting was held on Thursday, May 14th from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Watch Replay
  • Letter in English and Spanish mailed First Class to all residents and property owners within a quarter mile radius of the safe social distancing site (1,487 addresses) delivered on Wednesday, May 6th
  • News Release distributed Wednesday, May 6th to City’s local media contacts
  • Website: Information posted on the City’s websites on May 6th
  • Eblast and/or Text Message updates sent to approximately 68,000 citizens currently subscribed to receive City’s News Updates; sign up via srcity.org/news 
  • NextDoor: Information posted on NextDoor and targeted to neighborhoods surrounding site

Q12. How was this decision made without first seeking public input? 
A.  The City is establishing the Safe Social Distancing Program pursuant to the City’s Local Emergency Proclamation approved on March 3, 2020 in response to the community health threat posed by COVID-19.  The neighborhood and community at-large have been notified via numerous outlets, outlined in Q8.  

Q13. Why are individuals experiencing homelessness still allowed to live in encampments during the public health emergency?
A. The City is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which advises against dispersing encampments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the Sonoma County Health Officer’s Extended Shelter in Place Order (C19-05) exempts individuals experiencing homelessness from self-isolating inside of a residence, but are strongly urged to obtain shelter, and governmental and other entities are strongly urged to make shelter available as soon as possible and to the maximum extend practical.

In the context of COVID-19, the risks associated with sleeping outdoors in an encampment setting are different than with staying indoors in a congregate setting such as an emergency shelter or other congregate living facility. Outdoor settings may allow people to increase distance between themselves and others. However, sleeping outdoors often does not provide protection from the environment, quick access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, or connection to healthcare, which is one reason why the City is taking action to create safer situations for social distancing among those experiencing homelessness as well as to mitigate impacts to the broader community.

Q14.  What happens if we need to use Finley Community Center as an evacuation center while the site is still operating?               A. The Program will not impact activation of Finley Community Center as an evacuation center in the event of an emergency.  

Q15. How will the Program impact the reopening of the Finley Community Center, including the park, programs, facilities, and tennis courts? 
A. The Program will operate through the duration of the Sonoma County Health Officer’s Shelter in Place Order.  The Finley Community Center remains closed until further notice. The City is currently evaluating options for transitioning the Program once the order is lifted as well as mitigating potential impacts of the Program at Finley Park with the gradual re-opening of the parks countywide.  This includes managing the parking lot to accommodate the Program as well as members of the community wishing to use the park and the tennis courts.  Additionally, parks staff are gradually being restored to full capacity following the amended Parks Closure Order, which will enable to the City to better respond to parks maintenance requests.

Q16. How will the Safe Social Distancing Program be different than the Joe Rodota Trail encampment or other large encampments in Santa Rosa?  
A. Unlike the recent Joe Rodota Trail encampment or other large encampments in Santa Rosa, the Program will be managed 24/7 by an experienced service provider, Catholic Charities and a private security agency. Program participants will have access to essential services such as portable toilets and hand-washing stations, refuse containers, mobile shower unit, and laundry service. Additionally, meals will be provided, plus linkage to County-wide shelter and services will be offered, as well as service and housing navigation, on-site medical services, and referrals for alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment and behavioral health services.  Additionally, storage of personal belongings will be limited to one bike and two totes for storage plus what can be safely kept within a tent.

Q17. What is being done to address vehicle encampments?  Will the Program be open to people living in their cars and RVs?
A. Individuals residing in encampments that are most densely populated and in need of social distancing will be prioritized for this Program. Individuals living in their cars or RVs will not be excluded from the Program. However, individuals will not be allowed to live in vehicles or RVs at the Program site. 

In January 2020, the Santa Rosa City Council directed staff to evaluate city-owned parking lots in each of the seven Council districts for a safe parking program.  This effort has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Staff anticipates bringing forward a recommendation to Council in summer 2020 subject to lifting of the Shelter in Place Order.      

Q18. How can we help? 
A. There are a number of ways to offer help:

  • Donations: Catholic Charities is seeking the following items for Program participants. Donations can be dropped off at the Homeless Services Center, 600 Morgan Street. Monday through Friday during normal business hours (closed during lunch). Please do not drop off items at the Finley Community Center. NEW ITEMS ONLY PLEASE.
    • Personal hygiene items – shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste/toothbrush, hand sanitizer, deodorant
    • Blankets, camp chairs
    • Non-perishable snacks – cereal/granola bars, crackers
    • Solar chargers for cell phones
    • Face masks
    • Socks, underwear, sweatpants, leggings, t-shirts, sandals/flip-flops for shower, towels
    • Gift cards to purchase items for participants
  • Volunteers: The City is not currently seeking volunteers for this Program. For volunteer opportunities with Catholic Charities please visit their website: https://www.srcharities.org/give-help/ or the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County (recently merged with the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership serving Sonoma, Marin, Napa, and Solano counties): https://cvnl.org/volunteerism/disaster-services/#.