A ‘moment of hope’ for people in need

The opening of the new Caritas Center in downtown Santa Rosa is, as Catholic Charities CEO Jennielynn Holmes describes it, a “huge moment of hope.” It’s also testament to what this community can accomplish through collaboration and well-coordinated public and private partnerships.

The 48,000-square-foot homeless services hub opened its doors this week following years of planning and an ambitious fundraising campaign that generated $34 million toward the $53 million project. The remainder was funded through tax credits, local and state grants and construction loans.

The center, a three-story building adjacent to Highway 101, includes nearly 200 shelter beds, 40 rooms for families, a health clinic and a drop-in facility where homeless residents can shower, do laundry and meet with case workers. The facility will replace a shelter operated since 1990 in the former General Hospital building next door, as well as a smaller drop-in facility a few blocks away.

Construction is also underway on the $128 million Caritas Village, a 128-apartment complex for low-income residents at the former hospital site. The center and village are near the downtown transit mall and a SMART station. Residents will have ready access to employment opportunities. The center also will provide an integrated range of services that include a clinic operated by Santa Rosa Community Health with mental health professionals on staff and a 38-bed Nightingale Recuperative Care Center for homeless residents who need post-hospital care.

Children, who often struggle the most in a family’s homelessness crisis, are a focus at the new center. Services include a Head Start program run by Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County and programs for older children provided by the YMCA and Catholic Charities.

The center is designed to be a one-stop point of contact for homeless people to ensure they get the assistance they need to get back on their feet. The point-in-time count earlier this year found 2,893 homeless residents in the county, down from a high of 4,539 in 2011 but 5% more than a year ago. As is often the case with such counts, it’s likely there are even more who weren’t found.

Many individuals and organizations deserve praise for making the new Caritas facilities a reality, beginning with Catholic Charities, whose commitment and vision to improved services sustained the effort through many challenges. Major contributors include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose charitable fund provided a $5 million grant, and the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation, St. Joseph Health and Kaiser Permanente, each of which contributed $1 million.

Other benefactors include Burbank Housing, developers of Caritas Village, and Poppy Bank, which financed the construction loans. The state’s Project Homekey, a $3.5 billion program championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, also provided $11.5 million for the project.

Holmes, the longtime homeless services coordinator who took over as CEO of Catholic Charities this month, says the organization hopes Caritas Center and Caritas Village can become “a beacon for the state and the nation for how we can provide care if we want to get serious about addressing homelessness.”

We wish them luck on that goal. For now, however, this ambitious undertaking should serve as a model for continued collaboration and coordination on solving not just our region’s homelessness crisis but also other local challenges.

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