'We're a lot like anyone else': Joe Rodota Trail homeless open up about Sonoma County's plan for new shelter

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- In Santa Rosa, the homeless issue is focused on people in camps along a popular trail.

It's the largest encampment in Sonoma County.

When a trash bin presents an opportunity to homeless man Mark Keeler, wandering in the rain, then it's another rough day on Santa Rosa's now-infamous Joe Rodota Trail.

"I hate asking for stuff. Hate begging. Hate all of that," said Mark Keeler.

Keeler is just one of more than 200 homeless still camped out on the trail while Sonoma County prepares outdoor shelters 10 miles out of town for 60 of them.

RELATED: Sonoma Co. votes to move homeless camped along Joe Rodota Trail to Los Guilicos County Park

Lisa Swarney, who lives on the trail, says she wouldn't want to go, even if the county offered her a place.

"No. I believe it is set up like a concentration camp," said Swarney.

Joe Rodota Trail inhabitants are the faceless, nameless, and misunderstood to elderly residents of Oakmont, just across Highway 12 from the soon-to-be-occupied encampment.

At a meeting last week, many concerned.

"I am sorry they are so fearful," said Roberta Rosenthal about her neighbors.

"This is a poor choice in dire circumstances," ventured Lisa Ladrous.

"We're not that bad," said Keeler. "We're from all walks of the world. Just need a place to be."

RELATED: Sonoma County Supervisors vote on $11.6 million plan to help homeless living on biking trail

Sonoma County says it will rid the trail of homelessness by the end of the month and is hand-picking the first shelter residents based on needs.

Who's going? It's mostly a mystery even to though those on the trail but Patrick Donohue is on the list. He wants nothing to do with that shelter.

"I don't want someone telling me I can't move around freely," said Donohue.

So says the man who served time in prison for robbery, who also seems changed.

"I did 20 years for eight robberies in 30 hours," Donohue said. "I deserved every day. My gun did not work but the people I robbed didn't know it."

Patrick spends his days in a wheelchair, now.

"I'm no threat to anyone," Patrick said.

"We're from all walks of the world. We began like everyone else. From all walks of life. We just need a place to be," said Keeler.

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.
Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.