Standing outside the Gold Coin Motel on Mendocino Avenue on Monday, Jack Tibbetts saw the potential for 56 homeless people to have a place to call home and services to keep their lives on track.
Tibbetts, a Santa Rosa city councilman and executive director of St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County, hopes to emulate the success of the Palms Inn, a former motel on Santa Rosa Avenue that now offers housing to about 100 homeless people and show it’s worth replicating in a county with roughly 3,000 people living in shelters, on the streets or perpetually camping in vehicles or tents.
“We have this huge homeless population, and we have a lot of catch-up to be doing,” Tibbetts said.
Whether to subsidize the pricey transformation of the Gold Coin is one of the tougher decisions ahead for officials tasked with dividing about $14 million to curb homelessness in Sonoma County, including about $12 million in one-time state funding. The leadership council of Home Sonoma County, which steers money to homeless service providers to support shelters, street outreach and other anti-homelessness efforts, is set to finalize this week its funding recommendations for a vast array of projects and services.
The nine members of the leadership council, comprising local elected officials and housing and homelessness advocates, met in March to tentatively agree on a budget for about half of the roughly $14.1 million put up for bid. They left the other half, pertaining to capital projects and final decisions, for a meeting Wednesday at noon at the Santa Rosa City Council.
This week’s decisions on homelessness funding follows a report released last week by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute that ranked the Bay Area’s 28,000-person homeless population as the nation’s third-largest and its most visible.
That analysis, which found 65 percent of the 3,000 homeless people in Sonoma County are sleeping on the street or in vehicles or tents, came on the heels of a December report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that said the county’s homeless population was among the biggest compared to other largely suburban communities nationwide.
The catch-up Tibbetts mentioned means significant costs — $6.5 million to buy the Gold Coin Motel, for starters. St. Vincent de Paul has a deal in place to buy it but faces a July deadline, as well as competition from at least one for-profit developer, Tibbetts said.
That’s why the $2.5 million the nonprofit is requesting from Sonoma County homelessness leaders is crucial for its motel acquisition and pits it against other local proposals vying for funding, such as the $1.6 million construction of a new roof for the county’s largest homeless shelter. Across town from the Gold Coin on Finley Road sits Sam Jones Hall, which can house 213 people any given night — and which also is part of a multimillion-dollar request for a slice of funding.
The shelter, owned by the city of Santa Rosa, serves as a critical hub for the county’s homeless programs, said Jennielynn Holmes, chief programs officer for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, which operates Sam Jones. Homeless people who come in are provided with a bed, and they’re connected with staff who help them move toward permanent housing and gain access to mental health and substance abuse treatment services.