Petaluma’s un-housed population has been at the center of multiple high profile events including fires, federal injunctions, and controversial encampment clearings. In an effort to reduce homelessness over the next three years, Petaluma has adopted a new strategic action plan.
In recent years Petaluma has played host to a number of progressive local efforts and initiatives. The city has banned new gas station and fossil fuel infrastructure development, and has experimented with using a democratic lottery process to redevelop the Petaluma Fairgrounds.
That outlook appears to extend to the city’s approach to homelessness.
"The city has been showing a willingness to innovate." Andrew Henning said. "So there's the People's Village project; the city brought in Downtown Streets Team. There's the SAFE team, which is an alternative to law enforcement - in terms of emergency response."
Andrew Henning is a consultant who helped Petaluma develop its recently adopted Strategic Action Plan to End Homelessness.
Henning identified a separation from county services and a lack of landlord outreach as weak points in the city’s current approach. He said the strategic plan starts by looking at systemic issues.
"People might be going through behavioral health issues that are leading people to a crisis situation that is leading them to homelessness." Henning said. "Either that person self-resolve their homelessness, the system prevents their homelessness or rapidly resolves it, or that person is unable to prevent their homelessness and they actually become homeless. How does the local system coordinate care, collect data about those folks and really figure out how do we get them back inside permanently?"
A popular local sentiment was the desire for a sanctioned encampment for individuals unwilling to move into permanent housing. Council member Kevin McDonnell said the plan allows for that.
"I think the way this strategic plan is written, it allows for those strong organized groups to do exactly what the public is mentioning to have a community group own a share of a public problem." McDonnell said. "And I think that better outcomes come when the public's fully engaged on an issue."
The action plan aims to end chronic homeless within Petaluma by 2024.