As I watch the driving rain and freezing wind from the warm comfort of my home, I can't help but worry about our homeless neighbors outside who have no place to go.
According to a new HUD report, among largely suburban communities of our size nationwide, the Santa Rosa/Petaluma Continuum of Care area has among the highest numbers of homelessness, chronically homeless and unaccompanied unsheltered homeless youth in the country. Sonoma County records for 2018 show that we have 2,996 homeless individuals, of whom around 1,929 are unsheltered. Shelters can accommodate only 1,067.
The 6 percent rise in homelessness is indicative of failing policies. For example, Santa Rosa's official homeless solution is its Homeless Encampment Assistance Pilot Program. Described as a "compassionate approach," the program, in fact, is nothing more than brutal encampment sweeps that often leave tenters with nothing more than the clothes on their backs as all of their possessions are bulldozed into a dumpster.
Last fall, the county's Human Rights Commission found that both the city and county are systematically violating human rights of homeless individuals and called for the immediate establishment safe havens with services for those living on the streets as well as the creation with all due haste of inexpensive countywide tiny house villages with services to provide shelter for the years required for permanent supportive housing to become available. Authorities have completely neglected these urgent needs.. Authorities have completely neglected these urgent needs.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha recently decried the denial of access to water, sanitation, health services and other basic necessities to Bay Area unsheltered homeless people as "a cruelty that is unsurpassed," adding that "such punitive policies must be prohibited by law and immediately ceased."
The newly activated, countywide Home Sonoma Leadership Council has so far failed to take any action to resolve the homeless emergency crisis that city and county officials have themselves repeatedly declared. Meanwhile, unsheltered human beings on the streets are wet, freezing, sick and dying, with no respite in sight
We treat dogs better than this! People of good conscience, do not avert your eyes. Rise up and demand justice for those who can't demand it for themselves.
Kathleen Finigan lives in Santa Rosa.
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