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Officials Begin Dismantling Massive Santa Rosa Homeless Encampment

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) -- Wednesday was the day Sonoma County said it would begin removing the homeless encampment along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa. But that still leaves the biggest problem unsolved.

The day began with a protest; one last act of defiance to a problem for which there are no easy answers.

The signs said Wednesday was the day property would be removed from the trail and many homeless campers were dismantling the only homes they've known for months and, for some, years. Nathan Brown told KPIX the experience has left him feeling empty inside.

"That I'm not worth anything.  I mean, I don't feel like…like a human," Brown said.

The county was out in force for most of the day, offering limited services and plastic storage containers.

A court ruling said they could not legally close the camp unless they had beds for everyone. But after constructing 30 shelter cabins in another location in Santa Rosa, the camp is being closed. Even though there are more than 200 people living in it.

Health Department PIO Rohish Lal was asked if, in fact, the county has a bed for everyone living at the trail encampment.

"We're working to find people alternatives," said Lal. "We're working as hard as we can."

But if that is the county's responsibility and they're about to shut the camp down, is there a place for them to go?

"We're working on finding whatever that place may be, continuously working," replied Lal.

Robyn Prusky, who began volunteering to help the homeless, said the Rodota Trail encampment became an issue because it simply got too big.

"The only reason they're doing something is because it's so public, and it's in everyone's face," said Prusky. "They want them to go back in hiding."

Erik Johnson would love to move to the new cabins but because he's clean and sober and has employable skills, he wasn't considered "vulnerable" enough to qualify.

"I want to go back there," Johnson said. "I don't want to be out here, be an animal and be treated like an animal.  And I know I can make it and be back. It's just going to take time. And if somebody gives me housing, then I'm going to be able to do that."

The county is in a no-win position.  It cannot possibly do what the law requires. The problem is simply too big.  And no one really thinks what's happening at the Rodota Trail is going to change anything.

Now, it's a waiting game.  Authorities have set a deadline of January 31st to clear the trail completely. No one is saying when police might begin forcing people to leave.

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