Sonoma County declares homeless emergency along popular public trail

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- A cold December day along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa, a mile-long stretch of mostly homeless misery that has returned to local headlines.

"It's no longer something the community can hide," said Theesha Royalty, a self-described liaison between the homeless and the rest of the community. She was in the audience, Tuesday, as Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors moved the Joe Rodota issue to possible emergency resolution status.

"We have to clear this Joe Rodota Trail. It's ridiculous," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane.

"You know we have a shanty-town. Basically a Hooverville along a public trail," said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.

And now with the United States Supreme Court refusing to hear Martin vs Boise, a case that would have allowed cities and counties to arrest people sleeping on public property, Sonoma County is refocusing on its 3,000 homeless, and how to help them.

RELATED: Supreme Court won't review decision that makes it harder for cities to keep homeless from sleeping on sidewalks

"It puts us in a corner," said Supervisor James Gore. "It says we have to have shelters to place people."

"We're saying this is a crisis," added Supervisor Hopkins. "It's about damn time we step up and deal with this as an emergency."

Tuesday, supervisors voted to declare a homeless emergency along the Joe Rodota Trail. They are looking at options. One would be to offer the homeless an opportunity to move to shelters in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where the county would create a navigation center.

RELATED: Report: Sonoma County to consider plan to house homeless at county fairgrounds

CEO Susie Abrecht described her reservations, "There is a concern that there is no definitive exit plan."

Especially among those who live in surrounding neighborhoods.

"It's multiple families," said Carlos Diaz, who lives less than half a mile away. "This neighborhood is quiet. I believe that having that will raise red flags."

Though, as the County sees it, those flags have already been up for a long time.

Pass by a homeless encampment like the Joe Rodota Trail and you may hear them flap in a strong wind of discontent both inside and out.

"I don't think it is up to the county. It is up to the community and people living in encampments," said Theesha Royalty. "We are Camp Rubble, basically. It's a reflection of how the community has viewed us."

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