SONOMA COUNTY is making progress on sheltering its homeless population, but more than 2,200 people remain without permanent housing, the county Board of Supervisors was told during its regular meeting this week. 

About 400 beds were created in the county last year. In an effort to create more long-term housing options, supervisors voted to close two temporary homeless shelters in the county and transition the sites to more permanent housing with increased capacity. 

An emergency shelter at 2550 Ventura Ave. will be replaced by a site on Russell Avenue that will include spaces for RVs, trailers and tiny houses. 

A pallet house shelter in a parking lot at the county-owned Los Guilicos campus will also be closed and replaced with refurbished dormitories, which will lead to a net increase of 80 beds at the site, called Los Guilicos Village. 

Both sites were set up in response to large encampments on the Joe Rodota Trail being shut down. Los Guilicos Village was established in 2020 and the emergency tent shelter on Ventura Avenue was set up in March of this year. 

Homeless tents line the edges of the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa during January 2023 in an image from video. (Car Tats/YouTube)

The Russell Avenue site will be on 2.4-acres and will have space for 50 beds from parked vehicles and another 24 from tiny houses. 

Transitioning the sites will cost about $3 million and the annual cost of operating the two shelters would be about $3.1 million.

Homeless count dips

The overall number of homeless people in the county declined from last year, according to the annual Point in Time count, which measures the number of people on a given day that are without permanent housing, was presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday by representatives from the county’s health department.  

The count, taken in January, measured the total homeless population and the number of people without reliable access to a shelter bed. It showed 2,266 homeless people living in the county. Last year’s count recorded 2,893 people. There were 1,291 unsheltered people in 2023, down from 2,088 unsheltered people in 2022. 

The 2023 count included 110 veterans without permanent housing, down from 192 in 2022. 

“We have more work to do, and we won’t let up on our commitment to achieving ‘functional zero,’ which means any episode of homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring.”

Supervisor Chris Coursey

There were 294 youths recorded in the point in time count this year. That’s down from 530 in 2022. 

The numbers showed that 85 percent of homeless individuals became homeless while living in Sonoma County and 63 percent said unaffordable rent was their main obstacle to finding permanent housing. 

“We have made ending homelessness and creating affordable housing our priorities in Sonoma County, with investments in new shelter facilities, expanded supportive services and the development of current and new affordable housing projects,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey. 

“We have more work to do, and we won’t let up on our commitment to achieving ‘functional zero,’ which means any episode of homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring,” Coursey said.