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This Year's Homeless Count Will Be Lower than Last Year's
Still, 32 people are living outdoors in tents or in cars in Sebastopol
In mid-January, Sebastopol Times published “Working with the Homeless Over and Over”, an interview with Jennifer Lake who was working for West County Community Services as the Homeless Services Outreach Coordinator. Shortly after, Jennifer let me know that she was leaving to take another position with a senior housing program. “When we did the recording, I wasn't sure I was going to take this new job because I really was enjoying my role working in Sebastopol but a week later they offered me more incentive to take the job,” she wrote to me in email. She said would continue to work in Sebastopol in a similar role as a volunteer and train her replacement.
Tim Miller, Executive Director of West County Community Services, confirmed that social worker Maria Rico is the new Homeless Services Outreach Coordinator for Sebastopol. “She started a few weeks ago and is being trained by Jennifer,” he wrote in email.
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Jennifer Lake took the lead in this year’s homeless count in Sebastopol, which was done on in the early morning on January 27, in association with the Sonoma County Development Commission. The homeless count is referred to Homelessness Point-in-Time report.
In the 2022 report, Sebastopol had a total of 78 people considered homeless, 40 were unsheltered and 38 were sheltered. People in places such as Horizon Shine and Elderberry Commons are included in the homeless count as “sheltered” because they remain in need of permanent housing.
The report uses the HUD definition of homelessness, which includes individuals and families:
• Living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangement; or
• With a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping
Look at four other cities in Sebastopol for comparison, based on numbers from a year ago.
97 in Healdsburg: 97 unsheltered and none were sheltered.
48 in Windsor: 8 unsheltered and 40 sheltered.
85 in Cotati: 79 unsheltered and 6 sheltered.
81 in Sonoma: 66 unsheltered and 15 sheltered.
2,893 was the total for Sonoma County in 2022: 2,088 unsheltered and 805 sheltered.
Preview of 2023 Count
Jennifer shared the “unofficial” results for this year’s count in Sebastopol. 55 is the total — 32 living outside in the rough and 22 living in Horizon Shine. 32 is less than last year’s 40 so that’s some good news. (In 2020, it was 129.) In the January interview, Jennifer said that there were 24 people living in the rough, so the count found more people than she had thought were there.
There are no new options for temporary shelter locally, and the current places are full. Jennifer has had to try to place Sebastopol’s homeless in temporary shelters elsewhere in the County.
Putting Names to the Numbers
The homeless camp site, shown in the photo above, is near where the Laguna was flooding just last month, an example of how people move from place to place from one month to the next. The numbers of homeless will fluctuate. On the Joe Rodota Trail, a portion in Santa Rosa was closed at the end of January for cleanup, and the homeless camps re-located further down the trail, as they were in 2020. They are moving closer to Sebastopol and becoming a nuisance again for neighbors, cyclists and walkers.
It helps to see the homeless as individuals, as fellow human beings. Steve Einstein’s profile of Jason “J” Smith does that. J works at the Sunshine Cafe on Main Street and sleeps in his car at night. He showers twice a week at the Sebastopol Christian Church, along with 20-30 others. Last year’s video, “Sebastopol Unhoused” also helped to put stories to the numbers of homeless in town.
On February 1st, the Board of Supervisors announced a “five-year strategic plan to address homelessness” in Sonoma County. (Link here.) Among other initiatives to increase housing options, the plan “asks for a redesign of the street outreach model so that all areas of Sonoma County are covered by qualified outreach teams with a triaged response for high-needs clients. The new model will be developed so individuals are known ‘by name’ and case-managed into housing based on individual circumstances.”
For eighteen months, Jennifer’s city-funded job was to get to know the homeless by name, connect them with necessary services and help them move to a shelter or housing, if such is available and they are willing to move. As I said about Jennifer — the Homeless Outreach Coordinator might have the hardest job in town because making progress is slow and uncertain. Now the job belongs to Maria Rico.