One of California’s famous wine regions has a government-sanctioned homeless encampment set up near the local courthouse, Fox News Digital has learned.
Photos taken on Sonoma County’s administrative campus in Santa Rosa show blue tents lining a parking lot where up to 100 homeless individuals can live. Leaders in Sonoma County, located in northern California’s famed wine region, approved the taxpayer-funded homeless camp this year after a “shelter crisis” declaration. The administrative complex is home to various offices such as Sonoma County Human Resources, the county registrar, Superior Court of California and district attorney’s office.
One photo shows a pile of trash on the parking lot next to a fence lined with bikes, while another photo shows a person picking through garbage dumpsters.
In March, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved “an emergency shelter site” on the government campus in response to growing homelessness concerns along Joe Rodota Trail. The trail is an old train rail line that was paved over and turned into a walking and bike path that has been the site of repeated homeless encampments in recent years, including this winter when the county worked to clear tents and remove people living there.
“The appearance of homeless encampments around the county, particularly on Joe Rodota Trail, has underscored the urgent need for additional emergency shelter space,” the county said in a press release in March. “The current shortage of both interim and permanent supportive housing in Sonoma County has limited the county’s ability to clear the encampments along Joe Rodota Trail, which has repeatedly been closed over the last four years due to public safety concerns.”
The county said the shelter site on the administrative campus is managed by a company called DEMA Consulting & Management, which oversees the homeless shelter’s round-the-clock security, provides “on-site support services that include behavioral and physical health care” and offers resources for job training.
Homeless individuals who were convicted for violent or sexual offenses are not permitted to live on the premises, according to the county’s website. Drugs and alcohol are prohibited from the site.
DEMA’s website shows that there are 78 people living at the encampment, including six people who have employment. Since its opening on March 21, one person who lived at the site found a “successful exit,” according to the website. The shelter site is slated to stay in its current location until the fall.
“About 80 persons, who were some of our most chronically homeless individuals, now are sheltered with comprehensive services provided to them,” a county spokesperson told Fox News Digital. “The public-use trail where almost all of the emergency shelter site residents once resided is now clear and reopened for bikes, walkers, runners, and other recreation.”
When asked if the county is seeing success with the program in light of the one “successful exit,” the spokesperson said that “many of the folks from the trail are folks who have been unable to find housing for several years.”
“They each need individual solutions to be ready to be housed and stay housed, even if/when a housing unit is found for them,” the spokesperson said. “It could be a combination of behavioral health care, substance-use disorder care, ways to increase a person’s income and securing needed documents – ID cards, SS cards, etc. These are the types of services being provided now to the folks residing at the emergency shelter site.”
The spokesperson for the county said that there are no plans to expand the camp at this time. Instead, the county might move the camp and make it “somewhat smaller and different in scope with respect to infrastructure.”
An initial $3 million in funding for the project was provided through the American Rescue Plan Act and MediCal Reimbursement funds, the Press Democrat reported this year. Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom awarded Sonoma County an additional $4.6 million through the state’s Encampment Resolution Funds to continue the county-backed encampment and to fund assets for shelters at the Los Guilicos Village and the 35 trailers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
“I applaud the state for helping cities and counties with its largest amount from the Encampment Resolution Funds (ERF) to be distributed statewide to date,” Sonoma Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said of the $4.6 million in a press release. “Over the past few months, in particular after the opening of the emergency shelter site on county grounds, we have made it clear; permanent housing is the key to ending homelessness. These funds are a big step forward to help us achieve that.”
The county spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the “next iteration of housing for individuals at the emergency shelter site is likely to be funded via a combination of federal, state and local funds.” Overall, the county said the initiative has paid off but that more work remains to address homelessness.
“On a larger level, we have seen a decline in the overall numbers of homelessness across Sonoma County from 2022 to 2023, and this is as a result of efforts like Project Homekey and our region’s focus on adding both interim and permanent supportive housing projects,” the spokesperson said. “More needs to be done to add to our numbers of permanent supportive housing – the only real way to reduce homelessness – but we believe we are making progress.”
“It often takes a long time to fall into chronic homelessness, and it often takes a long time to come out of it,” the spokesperson added.
California has the largest homeless population in the nation, with a recent study finding that 171,000 people in the Golden State are unhoused. The figure is roughly double that of New York’s homeless population and accounts for about 30% of the entire homeless population in the U.S.