Virtual Meeting Targets Finley Site for Unsheltered

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Work is well underway to transform a city owned parking lot at the Finley Community Center on West College Avenue into a safe camping space for dozens of Santa Rosa’s unsheltered community.  Tents will go up Friday, and the first occupants are expected to move in beginning on Monday, May 18th.

The site will be run by Catholic Charities, and will space 70 tents across a large, fenced off open area with room for between 70 and 140 individuals.

On Thursday night, city residents who attended a virtual community meeting got a better look at what the plan will entail.  The virtual meeting featured Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, as well as representatives from the city’s public safety, public works and community services departments.

Santa Rosa’s Homeless and Community Services Manager Kelli Kuykendall acknowledged that the Finley Center plan may face local opposition.

California has mandated that cities across the state provide safe spaces for their unsheltered populations, who are considered among those most at risk for coronavirus infection.

Since the start of the coronavirus emergency, unsheltered individuals have been increasingly clustered in tents and other structures under Highway 101 in downtown Santa Rosa.  Health officials say the close confines make the clusters suseptible to an outbreak of the coronavirus, and have been looking at alternatives.

A few dozen of the unsheltered considered at highest risk have been moved into motel space at the city’s Sandman Motel, or to the county’s alternate care site at Sonoma State University’s student housing complex.

But the parking lot plan is designed to get more of those who are most at risk sheltering outdoors into spaces that allow safe social distancing, while also providing security, regular food delivery from local restaurants, and social services on site.  The site is planned to be in operation until the county’s shelter in place order is lifted.

The shelter site will reportedly cost the city $134 thousand for each month it’s in operation, funds the city hopes to recover from the state or FEMA.

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