Williamsburg's Homeless & Indigent

P.O. Box 366, Lightfoot, VA 23090
Office: 757-561-3255
"Assisting people in re-gaining hope and a better way of life."

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Sonoma may lease school for homeless shelter

May 26, 2003


Sonoma is moving cautiously toward serving the homeless with a $50,000 shelter proposal that would accommodate a family or single person in an unused school building.

Negotiations have begun between city and Sonoma County education officials to remodel a former continuation high school classroom on First Street West for overnight use.

If the school district agrees to a lease, Sonoma would get its first shelter since a church-run operation closed several years ago.

"We're going to start small," Councilman Ken Brown said. "Small and manageable."

The shelter is being promoted by Sonoma Overnight Shelter, a group that ran the church shelter and is offering to manage a new one.

Sy Lenz, board president, said a few dozen people sleep in cars or outside in the Sonoma Valley each night, and the area has an obligation to do something about it.

The 1,750-square-foot portable school building is ideal because it is isolated from residents who might complain and it can be expanded in the future to house more people and administrative offices, Lenz said.

For now, the school district is offering about a third of the space, provided it is not needed next school year.

At maximum, the shelter would have beds for two adults and two or three children.

"If we only had five people, we'd still want to get them out of the rain," Lenz said.

Jerry Lapinski, the county Office of Education's director of school and community services, said the school was closed in February for lack of students.

Lapinski said the district would decide within a few months if it will lease the building, saving maintenance costs.

The city would pay to renovate the building but is not likely to subsidize its operation. The council balked recently at a request from Lenz for $20,000, city planner David Goodison said.

However, the council has authorized officials to negotiate with the district for the building, which is on city land near the police department, Goodison said.

Homeless shelter advocates countywide lauded the effort, which would take a small but important bite out of the homelessness problem. A county task force estimated that up to 1,800 people are without shelter on any given day.

Nick Baker, director of Catholic Charities' Homeless Services Center in Santa Rosa, said because communities are not always receptive to shelters, a small start is wise.

And David Brigode, housing director for Community Action Partnerships of Sonoma County, said he would lend technical expertise to help the shelter expand, build a budget and set up house rules.

"When you move into people's neighborhoods, you have to be respectful," Baker said. "I think proceeding with caution is entirely appropriate."


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