SONOMA COUNTY (KPIX 5) — The homeless problem in Sonoma County has gotten so bad, elected officials met Tuesday morning to declare a state of emergency.

“We are involved! We’re trying to get this done and we cannot work with this government!” Sonoma County resident Scott Wagner shouted from the podium at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Supervisors have heard a growing public outcry over conditions faced by homeless people throughout Sonoma County that is now concentrated along the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa.

The Board voted to declare the situation a health and safety emergency.

“Right now people are literally defecating in plastic bags,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “There’s no running water, no electricity, no way to wash their clothing or take a shower. We have to provide a basic level of just …basically dignified human lifestyle.”

County staff is recommending that a new location with basic sanitary facilities be found for the trail campers. Much of the current focus seems to be on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

One group calling themselves “The Squeaky Wheel Bicycle Coalition” is suggesting converting a group of horse stables at the back of the fairgrounds into living units for people.

“It can be safe. It can be secure,” said coalition member Miles Sarvis-Wilburn. “And I think the county is finally realizing that these types of things are viable, but also have to be explored in some degree.”

Any shelter built at the fairgrounds would be considered temporary housing, but Lisa Landrus with a homeowners group called “Citizens for Action Now” warned that once the homeless take up residence, it may be difficult to get them out.

“They want their way, and their way is they want to take over the fairgrounds just like they took over Joe Rodota Trail,” said Landrus. “Because that’s their new chosen beautiful spot.”

Dealing with the problem involves far more than just housing. Numbers quoted at the meeting show 47 percent of the homeless suffer some kind of mental illness.

The county has a renewed sense of purpose on the matter, especially following the Supreme Court’s refusal to overturn an injunction against evicting homeless people from public property.

The Supervisors now seem convinced they will have to find a more substantial approach to what was once seen as a problem, but is now an emergency.

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