Tuesday, February 28, 2017

S.R. City Council Agenda, February 28th


Thanks again to our friend, Anne Seeley, of Concerned Citizens For Santa Rosa, for her analysis of this week's City Council agenda.

Friends:    There is no Study Session before the 4PM meeting.

6. Proclamations and Presentations
6.1 Black History Month.  In this proclamation, credit is given to the late Rev Coffee, Ms. Shirley Gordon and the Community Baptist Church's sponsorship of the Bridge to the Future - Rites of Passage Program in which adult mentors have since 2000 have mentored teens aged 14-18 in skills for effectiveness as adults.

14.3 Community Feedback to the Community Advisory Board (CAB) on Capital Improvements Program (CIP) projects.
      In the 2003 ordinance creating the CAB, which came out of the 2002 City Charter Review Process, one of CAB's responsibilities is to bring the public into the planning and budgeting process. CAB held a series of public meetings recently about the list of projects on the CIP - usually big-money public infrastructure projects partially paid for by development   The public who attended produced a set of priorities.   Below find first, the link to the CAB actions and second, a list of the CIP projects spending from October through December of last year.

14.4 Discussion of a $20,000 GAP Funding Request from Legal Aid of Sonoma County.  The needs are great for tenant protections and representation.  This was proposed for discussion  by Council Member Rogers and approved for discussion on 1/24/17. If Council agrees, there is a resolution ready for their approval to do this.

See you there!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Message of Hope from Santa Rosa Together

A Message of Hope from Santa Rosa Together

Our election and the transition to a new Presidency have revealed deep fractures in the fabric of our national community and politics. No matter how we voted, if we hope to restore the ability to work together to meet our challenges, we all need to find ways to overcome the deep divisions that separate us. In Santa Rosa, we have made some progress in this work. For the past five years, a diverse group of volunteer community leaders have been working to get more people engaged and improve and the way we work together. We’ve created a volunteer, non-partisan organization, Santa Rosa Together, to build interpersonal connections and focus on strengthening our community. We started with the belief that we cannot rebuild trust and overcome alienation unless we all have a meaningful voice and role in the city and we cannot learn from each other and find common ground without renewed faith in democracy.

 Our democracy was designed to enable a way of life that respects each person’s unique contribution and engages the talents of all of our citizens.  This vision is our democratic heritage, the gift given to us by generations of sacrifice and struggle. We believe that the best path to community healing is to reaffirm our commitment to democracy and rebuild a politics based on our shared democratic values. 

Some see our current state as bleak, but in Santa Rosa Together we do not see it that way. Despite the election, we believe our community is now more united and inclusive than ever. Our towns are teeming with diversity and in their daily lives our citizens are building bridges as never before. If we recognize our potential and rebuild our local politics to give everyone a role and voice, we will create a democracy that will flourish beyond our own wildest dreams. Jefferson was right, democracy does needs to be renewed periodically to make it relevant in a changing world. That is our task today.

We can start by finding ways to restore power and function to our local organizations and neighborhood level communities. These can be our democracy schools where more of us can get engaged, get to know each other, and develop the skills that we need to find common ground and work together. Neighbors who understand how to do this will be prepared to reject the divisive tactics of our current politics.

We also need creative new ways to bring our diverse communities and citizens together to share ideas and learn from each other. We are already learning how to bring information and resources to our neighborhoods and how to organize cross-community meetings to share ideas and find common ground. In Santa Rosa, we have organized “Homeless Talk”, a coalition taking the conversation on homelessness out to neighborhoods and working to develop the kind of processes we need to find common ground.

And we need transformed governments that understand that in a democracy they have a primary responsibility to help citizens organize so that they have a voice and role in the work of the city.  Administrators and staff should bring their expertise to us and partner with us to address our city’s concerns, not just make decisions for us.  In Santa Rosa, with the leadership of our City Council and a new Director of Community Engagement, we are poised to begin this transformation.

It is regrettable that we have had to experience the deepened divisions and diminishment of democratic values that recent politics have helped to create. But if this experience motivates us to work together to rebuild our democratic community and create a democratic politics that helps to bring us together, it will be worth it. Santa Rosa Together encourages all local citizens to join us in these endeavors.  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Three Bells: A Response and Critique of the Santa Rosa Homeless Summit

By Adrienne Lauby, Homeless Action! member

Thank you to the Santa Rosa Collective, Catholic Charities. St. Joseph’s and anyone else who helped produce this 2-day workshop.  Thank you for making it possible for low and no-income people to attend and eat lunch.  Thank you for giving Homeless Action! one of the break-out sessions. Thank you for providing an intellectually stimulating couple of days. Thank you all for attending and being part of our ongoing attempt to do something ‘awesome’ to end homelessness in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa.  My four recommendations from this Summit are at the end of this essay.

Before the Summit, my understanding of “Housing First” was that we would stop trying to fix people until we get them into housing.  I support that.  As someone who has been poor and someone who knows and works with many homeless people, I see how varied and how strong many homeless people are.  I’ve seen the ineffective and humiliating programs many homeless people are channeled into “for their own good.”  This theory rang a large brass bell of jubilation for me.
I also liked Iain’s focus on radical acceptance, allowing people to be the people they are rather than trying to figure out what is wrong with them and putting together a path for their improvement.
We don’t know what any individual is capable of; we don’t know what they need.  As we all know from our own life, improvement is a complex and personal thing.  Iain said that a helper’s job is to 1) get people into housing and 2) walk alongside them in a non-judgmental, constructive, consistent and intensive way.
Hearing him discuss this in detail was not only validating but a good refresher course for my own behavior.  For much of the Summit, I felt we were advocating Housing as a Human Right and challenging the idea that only those who meet standards set from above should have a community that includes food, shelter and healthcare.  I deeply believe that food, shelter and healthcare should be shared and not be doled out, as it is so often, as punishment or reward.
All of this rang a sweet-toned bell, a bell of long-term and ongoing hope.

I learned that, in Iain’s version of Housing First, nearly all of the available resources would be shifted from helping people who are homeless into 1) housing location and 2) extensive case management after people get into a house.  I believe this is the Federal government’s version of Housing First as well.
Which is more important, to feed people once a week or to get them a house with a kitchen?  To teach parenting skills or get a parent a home for their children?  Put this way, it seems obvious that housing is the most important goal.
Homeless people would largely agree.  When I ask homeless people how Homeless Action! can help them, the number one answer is, “I need a place to live.”  Homeless people also say that the agency staff who are supposed to be helping them don’t do the things they need most.  They say the agencies have their own agendas and spend too much time either trying to improve their characters and/or enforce unnecessary rules.
Iain said that we could house people even in high rent, low vacancy areas like Sonoma County.  He said that most poor people, most people living with mental illness, most people who drink, do drugs or have other problems do not become homeless.  All these people, he said, find homes in the current rental market.  We just need to work harder and be more focused.  He said we could find homes for the homeless people who live here.
Iain gave two categories of housing that we may be missing, 1) owners who rent informally, only to people recommended by current tenants and 2) corporate owners who might welcome less vacancies and turn over.  Is there housing for the homeless available in Sonoma County if we look in these two areas?    We don’t know.  But, the hope that there are rental openings we don’t know about, don’t work hard enough to find, or don’t have the skills to locate is exciting.
More resources should be devoted to testing this theory.  The Rent Sonoma Committee of the Continuum of Care began doing this work.  There is also a group in West County starting to forge links with landlords.  Their efforts and other work in this area should be encouraged and provided with resources.
The Santa Rosa City Council and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors through the Continuum of Care should ask for monthly data from each agency to track their success in locating apartments and getting homeless people into them.  Shelter providers should also report their capacity and wait list numbers.  These reports could be very simple but should be on each website.
The idea that everyone who is working on homeless issues would focus on housing people is alluring.
For funders, it’s particularly handy because, with simple metrics, they can grade everyone from the individual staff member to entire agencies.  We only need to ask the question: What percentage of the people who come through your door were you able to house last month?
This also set a bell to ringing and, this time, it was a warning bell.

Iain presented himself as an expert and often referred to research that proved his point. He painted people who might object as people who are resistant to change or people who want to protect their agencies.  The proactive silencing of those who may disagree is bad behavior and should be ignored.
As I said above, the simplicity of this version of “Housing First” is very alluring and, I believe, particularly alluring for funders.  But, its simplicity is also its flaw.  Human societies are not simple and homelessness is not a single-issue problem.
Iain spoke of the many people who are ‘able to find housing even in a tight housing market.’  But homelessness is primarily a result of poverty and, in Sonoma County poor people, elders, those on fixed income, mentally disabled people, and people with addiction or other problems are not doing so well.
Despite ObamaCare, many people with mental illnesses cannot access routine health care.  Rental insecurity is exacerbating mental and physical illnesses.  There is a pathetic lack of treatment available for addicts, and the quality of life for many elders and youth continues to slide.
According to the Sonoma County Department of Health Services’ 2014 “Portrait of Sonoma County,” huge disparities along the lines of race, ethnicity, and gender persist in levels of health, education, and standard of living. Many people have already had to leave the county because they could not find a way to support, shelter and feed themselves in Santa Rosa.  All of this is likely to get even worse under the Trump administration.  When 30% of households spend more than 50% of their income on rent, as they do here, we have a problem that can not be measured by the number of homeless people we house.
Will finding available apartments for homeless people shrink the number of apartments available for other low and no-income people?  That seems likely.
Both the City of Santa Rosa and the CDC efforts have the homeless issue as a primary focus.  As they seek solutions and work for success, we must ensure that they do not ignore the wider problems and solutions.   Both the business and the advocacy community recognize that the financial burden of paying 50% of income for rent is impossible in the long term.
I asked Kris Freed, one of the Summit presenters, to explain how this model of Housing First works in her organization, the L.A. Family Housing.  She said that her LFH once had both transitional housing and shelter housing and they had 300 person waiting lists.  They closed the transitional housing, made the shelter bare bones and put all their money into finding housing and helping people stay in their houses.  Now she can guarantee that people who come to her can have a house within 60 days. Who wouldn’t want that?
But, when I ask more questions, I got a picture of many people squeezed into crowded, stressful living conditions.  LFH offers some help with the initial rent but there were no ongoing rental subsidies.  They do the kind of casework Iain recommended but for even the most troubling conditions, it ends after two years.  This was very disturbing information and we need to learn the details of those who have “succeeded” via Housing First.  Are these successes successful by our community standards?  What are the trade-offs in health and well being both for the homeless and for the low-income communities?
If we select only the outcome of “stable housing for the chronically homeless”, we are setting our goals too narrowly.  And, we are allowing the larger community to ignore their role in providing a reasonable quality of life for all its residents.
The U.S. homeless population skyrocketed beginning with Ronald Reagan’s 50% cuts to HUD (Housing and Urban Development), the agency that had historically been tasked with building low income housing stock.  In each decade since, those low-income houses have not been built.  If we apply the model of Housing First that we heard at the Summit, we don’t need the Federal government to help house the people of the U.S.  But, this is patently untrue.
Locally, both the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma have committed to building housing dedicated to homeless and other low or no-income people.  Their efforts need to be encouraged and supported.  The “boomerang funds” which returned from Redevelopment should be tracked and we must assure they are dedicated to housing, rather than just lament the loss of Redevelopment. And, the State of California also needs to step up to their obligations to provide for community housing needs.
Finally, and this may be the most important thing I am saying, if resources are to be redirected, we must ask homeless people which services are the most important to them. Any funding changes, whether within an agency or from outside funders, must only be made after a rigorous survey of the most important people, the homeless people themselves.

1.  Test the theory that there are rental openings we don’t know about, don’t work hard enough to find, or don’t have the skills to locate.  Encourage and provide resources to those who are working to locate housing for homeless people through direct contact with landlords, property managers and owners.  Track their progress carefully.
2.   Ask for public monthly reports from each agency on their success in housing homeless people as well as the capacity and wait list at each shelter.
3.   Support, but assure transparency from, the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma’s commitment to building housing dedicated to homeless and other low or no-income people.
4.  Redirect funding only in response to and as guided by a rigorous survey of homeless people who currently use the services (agency level changes) or homeless people as a whole (city and county-wide changes).


Here's two YouTube videos featuring the Santa Rosa City Council discussion on extending the Emergency Ordinance on the local homeless crisis:

Santa Rosa City Council, Feb 7th, Part 1
Santa Rosa City Council, Feb 7th, Part 2