COVID-19 Homeless 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.
City Actions to Address Homelessness During COVID-19
- Motel rooms were provided for at-risk sheltered and unsheltered individuals. At-risk individuals (aged 65 or older or with preexisting medical conditions) identified at the Samuel L. Jones Hall Homeless Shelter as well as individuals residing in encampments were relocated to the Sandman Hotel. The City phased out the use of these motel rooms for individuals experiencing homelessness beginning in late April 2021.
- 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. These services concluded with the closure of the encampment at Fremont Park in August 2020.
- Safe Social Distance Site in Area of Parking Lot at Finley Community Center. A section of the parking lot at Finley Community Center operated as a temporary, managed social-distancing space for unsheltered populations. The site provided space for 68 tents with access to sanitary facilities and meals plus linkage to community resources. Occupancy of the site began in May 2020 and concluded in November 2020.
- Emergency Shelter Expansion. In March 2020, the City lost 56 beds at its Samuel L. Jones Hall Homeless Shelter due to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements. In December 2020, work was completed on a new Shelter Annex to restore shelter capacity to pre-COVID levels, while maintaining social distancing requirements.
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. In keeping with CDC guidance, the City does not disrupt encampments unless the conditions within the encampment pose significant health and safety risks. When those site-specific risks outweigh the risks of COVID spread, the City activates Homeless Encampment Assistance Program (HEAP) protocols to protect individuals living in these encampments as well as the broader community. Prior to the resolution of an encampment, the Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) works with individuals within the encampment to encourage them to relocate to safer conditions with access to needed health and social services. The City also remains in on-going communication with the Sonoma County Department of Health Services regarding COVID-19 testing of individuals within encampments.
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 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.
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.