Saturday, November 29, 2008

Join the new Rio Nido Community Forum on Yahoo Groups

I've started an online newsgroup for my little community here in Rio Nido. To join, visit our Web page at & click the button that says JOIN NOW. Here, we can exchange information, discuss issues & current events, post announcements, upload relevant photos & documents, & keep a calendar of upcoming events. I hope we can get this thang going.

Rio Nido residents clash over proposed emergency homeless shelter during contentious meeting

12.12.2008 12:30pm, Rio Nido -- Local resident & RRROC member John Uniack & Rio Nido Homeowner's Association (RNHA) chair, Doug Meisner bravely faced hordes of enraged Rio Nido residents with flaming torches & pitchforks in a largely futile attempt to present the Russian River Interfaith Coalition's (RRIC) proposal for hosting an emergency homeless shelter in the Rio Nido Fire Station.

Okay, I'm exaggerating about the flaming torches & pitchforks & unruly mob. But the 30-or-so folks who showed up -- including vacation home owners who drove all the way from San Francisco to attend the meeting -- were pretty highly outraged. Especially since RRIC representative Jan De Wald cancelled the meeting at the last minute & didn't even bother showing up.

Neighbors (including me) voiced numerous objections, including: "We're residential & aren't set up for this!"; "Why does everything get dumped on Rio Nido!"; "My house has been broken into TWICE!"; "They'll smoke cigarettes & do drugs in the parking lot!"; "Yeah, SURE it'll be 'temporary'!"; "The Interfaith Coalition doesn't even have the guts to show up!"; etc.

When things finally settled down, people asked questions & the following answers have emerged:
  • WHY RIO NIDO?: The RRIC can't find anyone in Guerneville to do it & have exhausted all their other options. St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church provided emergency shelter at Hubert Hall in Guerneville last year, but can't do it this year because financial difficulties have required them to shut down their church & hold their services at Hubert hall. The Guerneville Community Church can't do it because the Guerneville Head Start preschool is located on the premises. And I have no idea of why the Guerneville Veteran's Hall won't do it.
  • How many people would be using the shelter?: 10-15 per night.
  • When would the shelter be used: Only in the winter when the temperature goes below freezing (I'm not sure if shelter would also be offered when it rains).
  • How would they get here?: A bus will pick them up from downtown Guerneville in the evening & take them back to downtown Guerneville in the morning.
  • What measures will the RRIC take to keep Rio Nido safe?: The homeless will be bussed in & out (as explained above) & the doors will be shut for the night. A qualified & experienced social worker will be hired to provide supervision.
  • Why didn't anyone from the RRIC show up at the meeting?: They cancelled the meeting because they're having difficulties in obtaining permits from the Board of Supervisors. Hence, their proposal may be moot.
  • Who ultimately gets to decide?: The Russian River Fire Protection District (RRFPD) gets to decide because they own the Rio Nido Fire Station.
  • How many homeless people are there on the River?: Approximately 257 people. As of 2007, the Sonoma County Task Force on the Homeless counted 1974 homeless people in Sonoma County, 13% of whom are estimated to live in the Russian River area. These figures are only estimations because the homeless are difficult to count & also because of varying definitions of homelessness. As far as the emergency shelter is concerned, we're talking about the chronically homeless who've camped out along the River (behind Safeway, under the Guerneville Bridge, etc.) for years & years. According to my highly unscientific & statistically invalid head-count, I think we're looking at about 30 people who will be in need of emergency shelter. But there are also folks who are temporarily homeless, folks living in shelters, & folks who couch-surf & drift in & out of non-standard housing situations. For more information & a link to the 2007 study (formatted as a PDF) go to the Sonoma County Development Commission's FAQ about Homelessness.
SO ... where does this leave us? We'll find out at the NEXT MEETING to be held at the Guerneville Senior Center on Wednesday December 3rd at 5:30PM.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An emergency homeless shelter in the Rio Nido Fire Station?!

Should the Rio Nido Fire Station become an emergency homeless shelter for the winter? The Russian River Interfaith Coalition wants us to consider this possibility. If you feel strongly one way or the other, please come to the neighborhood meeting -- especially if you live in or do business in Rio Nido.

The meeting will be held at 12:30pm, Saturday November 29th, at the Rio Nido Fire Station.

Personally, I think this is a terrible idea for the following reasons:
  • The Fire Station is too small & has no bathroom (though there's a small one in the adjacent post office) or kitchen facilities;

  • Rio Nido has few services & amenities & is two miles from downtown Guerneville (though the Interfaith Coalition plans to hire a bus to shuttle people back & forth each morning & evening);

  • The presence of a homeless shelter & the resulting concentration of people with substance abuse & mental health issues would be extremely disruptive to our neighborhood & possibly unsafe for the high percentage of vulnerable young children & senior citizens who live in the immediate vicinity of the Fire Station;

    and ...

  • Oh, yeah, as I forgot to mention when I first posted this ... what happens if there's a fire? & where would we put all of the fire fighting gear?
The folks at Hubert Hall say they can't host a shelter again this year (even though my church hosted a dinner/raffle last year which raised $3000 for creating a shelter there). The people at the Guerneville Veterans Hall also say they can't do it. If these facilities -- with their kitchens, bathrooms, & square footage -- can't handle the upcoming wave of homeless people, then the Rio Nido Fire Station certainly can't.

I spoke with a couple of people who are involved with the Interfaith Coalition. They've assured me that the hours will be limited, that the shelter will be managed & supervised by qualified personnel, & that a bus will bring the people here at night & take them back downtown in the morning. They also informed me that they've exhausted all other possible options & that the Rio Nido Fire Station is their last hope.

I feel like I'm being a heartless ogre, since without an emergency shelter, some of these folks could freeze to death. But as a home owner & the protective mother of a 6-year-0ld girl, I really don't want the mentally ill & substance abusing people who camp out beneath the Guerneville Bridge all year long to be imported en masse to a facility which is only a few yards from my house! I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, since there are at least 10 other children in the immediate vicinity.

I'm not the only one who feels that constant proximity to drug users with mental issues is unwholesome for young children: Even my fellow congregants at our Guerneville Community Church -- who passionately advocate for the homeless -- admit that we can't host the shelter in our church because the Guerneville Head Start preschool is located on the property.

On the one hand, I do believe that we should take care of people going through hard times. High rents, foreclosures, unemployment, & health issues have caused many members of our community to lose their homes ... or be on the verge of losing their homes. On the other hand, I do not think our community should necessarily participate in enabling drug addiction, crime & vandalism amongst the chronically homeless.

I also don't understand why the Interfaith Coalition regards the Rio Nido Fire Station as the only possible option. There are two properties in downtown Guerneville which appear to be unoccupied: (1) The church next to River to Coast Childcare Services across from the Veteran's Hall by Church & Mill Streets; and (2) The old, gray bank building on Main & Church Streets. Why can't we have the shelter in one of these places?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rave review for Fern Grove on SF Gate

Woo hoo! Travel writer Peter Hartlaub just gave our very own Fern Grove Cottages here in Guerneville an enthusiastic write-up on SF Gate yesterday. Hopefully the review will also appear in the print version of the San Francisco Chronicle. Owners Margaret & Michael Kennett have already gotten some bookings from SF Gate readers & perhaps our other local businesses will see some new customers too.

The Kennetts definitely deserve this rave review. Their establishment is affordable, friendly, clean, comfortable, hospitable, & charming. They have Wi-Fi & Margaret's breakfast scones are totally to-die-for. In addition, the Kennetts have been huge boosters for Guerneville & surrounding towns, & provide guests with well-organized looseleaf binders full of recommendations & brochures for restaurants, merchants, recreations, sites, arts, music, & upcoming events.

I do feel obliged to confess that my husband & I have a huge-warm-fuzzy-soft-spot for Fern Grove Cottages. When we first moved here with our daughter (then a rambunctious toddler) four years ago in November 2004, it was our home for 10 days. The escrow on the home we'd bought here took so danged long, while the escrow on the home we sold in Berkeley went through so fast (three days!) it was like, "don't let the door hit your butt on the way out."

We needed a place to stay for an indefinite period of time, & Fern Grove looked so danged twinkling, warm & inviting even though we had never before noticed the place despite years of frequent visits to the area. It turned out that the Kennetts had recently taken over the place & had already added some improvements. They made us feel comfortable & welcome, & proved immensely kind, helpful & accommodating despite the fact that we definitely were not quite the clientele they were seeking.

We were stressed out with the tangled logistics of our move, the upcoming holidays, & our lack of cell phone service in the area with our former providers. Yet, the Kennett's warm hospitality, cozy furnishings, & simple -- but key -- amenities often made us feel as though we were on vacation. Which is how staying in a hotel or B&B should make you feel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy homeless Christmas

So ... you think the homeless problem is bad now? Wait until December 1st, when four of our trailer parks close in accordance with yet another brilliant piece of legislation from the mad geniuses who run our county. Where will all these people go? If they don't find somewhere to go, the county will tow away their RV's, trailers, tents, etc. & leave them out on the street. Imagine how festive & welcoming our upcoming Victorian-themed holiday float parade in Guerneville will appear, with all of our scenic roadways crammed with vehicles from these parks? Nice.

I first found out about this impending event from a woman in my church who lives at the Fairy Ring trailer park -- not from the local media or any sort of announcement. I tried to do some research online with various key words & found NO information whatsoever. Apparently, the Powers-That-Be wish to keep this upcoming purge as quiet as possible.

FYI, rural areas like the Russian River here in Western Sonoma don't have low-income housing projects like cities & suburbs ... we have trailer parks. Like urban/suburban projects, our rural trailer parks have the usual assortment of low-wage workers, struggling families, elderly & disabled folks on fixed incomes, & yes, the stereotypical druggies & trouble-makers. And like many protective, middle-class moms, I'd love to see the disruptive substance abusers go somewhere else ... anywhere else.

But what about the folks who cause no harm & contribute positively to the community & simply can't afford local rents? A space in a trailer park costs about $400 per month -- affordable for those who've managed to acquire a trailer, RV or manufactured home. A studio rents for more like $700 & a two-bedroom apartment rents for about $1200 per month. You do the math.

Sure, these folks can apply for subsidized housing, but the wait is often two years long & what are they supposed to do in the meantime?