Homeless Crisis

According to a Point-In-Time homeless count, as of June 2019, there were 2,951 homeless people in this county. A 3% drop from 2,996 in 2018. While the homeless population grew 4% from 2017 to 2019, it is 35% lower than in 2011. This, despite multiple wildfires. That’s because over the past two years, the County has been able to house 3,100 people.

Homeless encampment in Santa Rosa CAAs a result of the court injunction prohibiting homeless camps from being cleared out unless there is a shelter for those people to go to, encampments have grown and local government is left with no choice but to actually take steps to try and find housing for homeless individuals. With the development of units out off Pythian Road and the acquisition of hotels that are then transferred into permanent housing, we are finally starting to find solutions to this part of the problem – those that want to be housed but just need a hand to get back on their feet. All told, this is the easy part. These people want help and it is clear what they need. It just becomes a problem of finding the funding and resources to provide it to them. But once we have the money and have acquired the space, we can help these people get back on their feet. A point to keep in mind here is that when a hotel is acquired to be converted to housing for the homeless we need to take a hard look at who is already in that hotel. There is at least one hotel in this City that was purchase for this purpose but the people that were living there were long term residents, unable to obtain or afford an apartment. By transforming this particular hotel into housing for homeless there were many people people who were evicted that were made homeless by this acquisition. It made for good headlines, the acquisition of a hotel for homeless, but in doing so, it actually contributed to creating homeless individuals before it tried to help.

In addition to those that just need a little help getting back on their feet, there are those that have additional issues that need to be dealt with before that person is able to focus on keeping an apartment or a job. These people suffer from addiction and mental health issues. These are people it does not seem the City or the County really has a plan for. These are the people that make the homeless crises really difficult to solve.

Helping the homeless crisis will require outreach servicesTo begin, we need outreach. We need to have people on the streets that are not police officers, but people that cannot make these individuals think they may be taken to jail. We need people who know how to handle those with mental illness and addiction. We need social workers and mental health professionals. We just need people that want to help and can commit to regularly walking these areas and making connections. Once members of this vulnerable population begin to trust those that walk by, that check in with them, these individuals will begin to communicate about their addiction or their mental health issues. Then, we will finally be able to determine how best to help each of them.

On a more basic level, there need to be more public bathrooms and handwashing stations. When the pandemic hit, the downtown parking garages were closed. These were the bathrooms used by nearly all homeless people downtown. With them closed, and no one on the streets or in the businesses, the streets and shop windows of downtown were, literally, covered in feces. These conditions are good for no one. We treat our citizens with some decency, give them a place to go to the bathroom, at the very least, and they will take better care of their environment as well.

In the meantime we need an in depth review of where the millions of dollars the City of Santa Rosa spends dealing with the homeless crisis is going. We need to analyze the efficacy for all programs being funded by the City and those of non-profits trying to accomplish the same goals. We need to work with these non-profits and research and develop new, more aggressive, solutions. If money is going to an organization or a program that is not working or not working as well as we had hoped it would, the amount of funding needs to be adjusted or even reallocated to programs that will support the rehousing efforts, one-on-one outreach, or any other more aggressive program that is promising. This, in turn will help take some of the extra burdens off our already overworked law enforcement and allow us to more efficiently handle this crises. Let’s let law enforcement go back to community policing and dealing with criminal activity. There are better and smarter ways to handle this issue.

Homelessness:

According to a Point-In-Time homeless count, as of June 2019, there were 2,951 homeless people in this county. A 3% drop from 2,996 in 2018. While the homeless population grew 4% from 2017 to 2019, it is 35% lower than in 2011. This, despite multiple wildfires. That’s because over the past two years, the County has been able to house 3,100 people.

 

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Wastewater:
Santa Rosa has been a leader in the use of recycled wastewater for over 40 years. We have one of the largest recycled water systems in the world! About 98% of the City’s recycled water is used to irrigate approximately 6,400 acres of agricultural lands and public and private urban landscaping, with more than 12.6 million gallons per day being recycled for the Geysers Recharge Project to generate enough electricity for 100,000 households.

The Laguna Treatment Plant is a wonderful and state-of-art facility here (with a fantastic tour!) that collects wastewater from Santa Rosa, as well as partnering cities and districts, through more than 500 miles of underground pipes. The wastewater goes through a three-step process of treatment prior to disinfection, storage, and reclamation.

I believe Santa Rosa Water Division has an excellent system in place for dealing with wastewater, and I support allowing its current model to continue in their efforts unhindered, with confidence that they will continue to excel and keep up with innovations in the industry.

Economic Recovery:
We need to draw more people to our downtown businesses by taking steps to support those businesses, especially during these truly unique and challenging times. Helping our homeless population is a big step towards accomplishing that. With that will come the public feeling safer using the public parking structures. We also need to promote small business creation throughout the City. We can encourage new, green jobs to come to the area by showing that we, as a city, support businesses trying to survive.

We have some unique areas that are often overlooked because they are not downtown. For example, the live/work complexes on Sebastopol Ave. in the seventh district. This is an area that has spaces for small businesses to open and housing all close to public transportation, yet this area struggles to actually draw businesses and customers. We need to support public transportation and bicycling, making it easier for people to get to the local stores they want to visit. Economic recovery is definitely a priority but it is important to understand that this is inextricably tied to protecting our environment. Tearing down one to try and build up the other will only cause both to fail sooner than we might expect Things like the Go Local campaign are good ideas but need to work to promote businesses in all areas of the City.

Measure Q:

Measure Q would eliminate two existing quarter cent sales taxes and replace them with a single half-cent sales tax. One of those quarter-cent taxes was passed in 2010 as Santa Rosa was coping with the Great Recession and is set to expire in 2027. The other was passed in 2018 and was pitched as necessary to deal with the fallout from the 2017 wildfires. That one is set to expire in 2025. If passed, the half-cent sales tax would be in effect until 2031.

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Alternative Transportation:

I think the city does a good job promoting bicycle use, with dedicated and newly painted bike lanes. However, the city’s bike renting program was not successful. There were too many hoops to jump through and the bikes were locked up in giant cages that were only accessible after people who wanted to use the bikes got a special card from the City and those were only available at certain times. It was so cumbersome, it did not make sense for people to participate in. It must be easier.

Our city has a strong bicycle coalition. I would reach out to them and get their thoughts on a bike rental program, maybe something they oversee, and is coordinated with local bike shops. We also need a better way to track down stolen bikes. Maybe some sort of embedded tracking device with a group dedicated to bicycle retrieval. My family has been hesitant to ride our bicycles to downtown because we are afraid they will be stolen. Promoting bicycle use is not just promoting riding bikes, but also giving people the confidence to trust their bike will be there when they exit the local business or restaurant.

 

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Police Funding:

I believe that the police are currently forced into areas that they are not properly trained for. Most significantly, this includes handling non violent issues with the homeless and mental health issues. Instead, funding should be taken from the police and funneled to mental health professionals who are tasked with working directly with the homeless, one on one, to ensure each person is getting the help and medication he or she needs. There should also be mental health professionals trained to handle situations involving mental health concerns of people who are not homeless. People who know how to safely interact with others who struggle with mental health.

This will free up the police to not only focus on what they are trained to do - public safety, but it will also give them time to walk the streets and get to know people in the community. This will help rebuild trust and real relationships with these people which will ultimately increase community building and trust in the police and in return, the police will have relationships with those in the community resulting in less aggressive responses.

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Public Pension System:

In the early 1900s, the concept of “retirement” was unknown to most. People essentially worked until they no longer could, due to illness, enfeeblement or death. In the first half of that century, retirement plans and public pensions began to surface as a light at the end of the tunnel. They provided a means to give workers a light at the end of the tunnel.

Initially, plans were simple and low-risk. They provided a steady accrual of low-interest earnings with very high reliability. As the years went by, people actually retired, leaving the active workforce and putting strains on reserves. This also coincided with a growing level of competency and innovations in the world of health care. People were retiring younger, and living longer. Investments into retirement plans had to become more aggressive, and created the need to take larger risks on those investments.

The maturation of public plans, growing public payrolls, and benefit enhancements have led to a meteoric rise in pension liabilities. The federal government maintains data on public-pension assets and liabilities going back to 1945. Comparing historical data on pension liabilities to the national gross domestic product gives a decent measure of the size of promised benefits relative to taxpayers' overall ability to pay. In 1960, state and local pension liabilities totaled approximately 12.6% of GDP. By 1990, the ratio had nearly doubled to 22.2% of GDP. Then between 1990 and 2017, the ratio nearly doubled again, growing to approximately 42% of GDP. The total value of retirement benefits already earned by public workers is higher today than it has ever been.

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