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photo credit: Courtesy the City of Sebastopol
This week the city of Sebastopol provided an update on a safe parking site for homeless residents. While public opinion is unsurprisingly divided, the situation remains complex.
 
"The simple solution seems to be to try to squeeze the balloon as they say, you squeeze one in and you push them out somewhere else," Sebastopol's interim Police Chief Ron Nelson said.
 
Since opening at the start of this year the Horizon Shine RV Village has endured fervent community push-back, a lawsuit, and a now-expelled problem resident.
 
It's situated on an unused lot along Gravenstein Highway on the city’s north side. The village provides safe parking, amenities, and services for 18 RV’s previously parked in a de facto encampment along Morris Street.
 
Sebastopol Councilmember Sarah Glade-Gurney says the city has received a number of complaints about an uptick in crime and vagrancy near the site.
 
Nelson, said that time and a lack of staff have prevented a thorough analysis of the number of calls since the site opened, but that the situation is not so cut and dry.
 
"It would not surprise me if we have seen somewhat of an increase in calls related to petty type crimes and nuisance crimes, but it, it's oversimplifying it to simply say that because the safe site is there, it's attracting people who are engaging in these types of activities," Nelson said. "I'm confident in saying that I don't believe the residents of the SAVS community are the ones who are contributing to any uptick."
 
Adrienne Lauby is with Sonoma Applied Village Services, known as SAVS. That's the group that is administrating Horizon Shine Village. She said the staff at SAVS and Horizon Shine are responsive to community concerns.

"Anytime that a business person or a neighbor contacts us, we go and find out who's there," Lauby said. "And often the businesses have pictures and, there's nothing in my report that any of our people have been any of these problem people. Even if it's not someone who actually lives in the village, we often do go out and talk to people. We ask them to move on, not to be near us, and not to bother people, not to make messes, not to do the things that make life for the rest of Sebastopol difficult."

She noted only three occupants have left the site in its nine months of operation; one was asked to leave, and two moved onto better housing options.

Despite some detractors, very little of that opposition was expressed at the most recent public meeting. Local resident Arthur George offered praise for the village administrators.

"The SAVS people are probably about as woke and progressive and compassionate, and some might even say bleeding heart as you're likely to find," George said. "Nevertheless, when there was problems, they acted proactively even to the extent of getting a restraining order and having a person removed from the village."

Councilmember Diana Rich has taken a leading role in the city’s efforts on homelessness. She said the most recent count of unsheltered individuals in Sonoma County offers some insight into the result of city efforts.

"The point in time count showed that last time it was done in 2020, there were 129 unhoused counted in the city limits," Rich said. "This year there were 78. No one wants any unhoused, but if you want data, there's a piece of information. Homelessness is not something that we're gonna eliminate within our city limits. We can't eliminate it. We wish you, we could, but we are working on it."

Rich noted that among the 78 homeless individuals counted, 50 are in temporary housing sites, like Horizon Shine RV village, within the city, with 28 on the streets.

The future of Horizon Shine, which is slated to close at the end of the year remains to be seen. But as interim police chief Nelson pointed out, the visibility of homelessness in Sebastopol has many causes.

"The unhoused are opportunistic, and I think if we could take a minute to put ourselves in their shoes, we would be the same way," Nelson said. "They're looking for a place to land. They're looking for a place to sleep. They have limited means, which unfortunately leads some to engage in crimes like petty theft. Add to it a bit of a perfect storm with our unfortunate economic situation. And you've seen that impact the lucky shopping center with closed businesses where once there was a lot of traffic, a lot of people, uh, frequenting that site. So that provides them an opportunity, particularly at nighttime to find a place to land."

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