Members of the Springs municipal advisory board painted a photo of two Sonoma Valleys on Wednesday evening, Aug. 10, one of which appears to have thriving assets and public spaces, and the other is lagging behind in rent and mental health care.
The councilors met with county representatives to address equitable and responsive access for housing assistance, mental health care and funding to improve parks in the Springs.
“These are households that are frankly in crisis right now and cannot afford to be in crisis,” said new Springs MAC member Celeste Winders on the issue of delayed housing assistance applications. “I would like to know what steps are being taken to resolve this situation for these households under assessment.”
According to “A Portrait of Sonoma,” a survey conducted to measure quality of life across the county, there is a distinction between quality of life in the city of Sonoma and the Springs.
Fetters Springs/Agua Caliente West received a quality of life ranking of 4.44 out of 10, 84 out of 95 different census communities in the province. By contrast, downtown Sonoma scored 6.34 and Glen Ellen/Kenwood scored 6.51, both in the top third of Sonoma County communities.
The main reason for these differences is income and education level. While nearly half of downtown Sonoma residents have a bachelor’s degree, only 1 in 5 Fetters Springs residents have one. And while the median income in downtown Sonoma was $43,664, the median income living in Fetters Springs earns less than $30,000.
Help with rental
The challenges facing emergency rental programs in Sonoma County, but especially the Springs, were addressed by Dave Kiff, interim director of the county’s Community Development Commission. There are 66 applications for housing assistance, but only eight have been paid out, he said.
“We see a staffing problem with these desks moving it as fast as I want and think we would like,” Kiff said. “Everyone is stretched doing this work and the other work they do because they do more than just hire help.”
The county is facing an estimated $4.4 million shortfall in funding for its emergency rental program, and only eight of Sonoma Valley’s 66 applications have been processed and approved, Kiff said.
While denials for funding come for a range of reasons — from invalid COVID-related issues to poor communication between county staff to failure to turn in paperwork — too many applications take too long to provide rental assistance, Kiff said.
“I’m sorry this is taking so long, and I respect that delay and am not too happy about it,” Kiff said. “But I do think we need to resolve this quickly. I’ve asked our employees to work with (community-based organizations) to come up with a plan to do that quickly.”
The Springs MAC assessed the amount of support the Valley has received from the county’s mobile support team, a mental health initiative to respond to dire mental health and substance use incidents aimed at impacting communities from Guerneville to Sonoma Valley. serve.
As of January 1, 2019, the mobile support team has responded to a total of 1,179 calls, and 43 of those were in the Sonoma Valley, according to the Department of Behavioral Health — less than 4% of responses were directed to Sonoma Valley, although it accounts for about 8% of the population of the province.
The mobile support team works with law enforcement agencies to respond to mental health or substance abuse crises with their team of licensed mental health practitioners and certified substance abuse specialists.
“Our prisons are the largest mental health facility in the county,” Sonoma County supervisor Susan Gorin said in the Springs MAC meeting. “A few years ago, a cop was involved in the death of a person in a mental health crisis at one of our Sonoma Valley mobile home parks. And then I knew we had to expand this program.”
But councilors question the amount of service Sonoma Valley has received from the mobile support team amid what Gorin described as an increase in suicides and mental illness in Sonoma Valley.
Wendy Tappon, health program manager for the mobile support team, said many of the calls to which the mobile support team in Sonoma Valley are responding relate to mental health crises that can escalate to violence.
“For the mobile support team currently in the Sonoma Valley, we need to call in the police,” Tappon said. “The kind of calls we make are usually those higher, more acute crises where someone is contemplating suicide or threats of violence against other people.”
Tappon also mentioned the labor shortage currently facing the mental health sector, adding that “unfortunately one of the realities of mental health is that there are not enough services for the need that exists. So a lot of the needs that wouldn’t have been a crisis turn into a crisis.”
The councilors, as their last major agenda item for the evening, completed a letter to Supervisor Gorin asking for more financial support for Larson Park in Fetters Hot Springs.
Many of the councilors contrasted the lack of funding in Larson Park with the regeneration projects begun at Maxwell Farms Regional Parks in Boyes Hot Springs.
“It’s insulting that Maxwell Park is getting the level of funding it has while ignoring Larson,” Winders said.
Larson Park is one of two parks in Fetters Hot Springs. Given the lower quality of life there based on information from the Portrait of Sonoma, members of the Springs MAC criticized the lack of equitable funding for the park’s maintenance.
The letter pleads with Gorin to “prioritise finding funding for this park,” requesting that “all the creative measures Maxwell funded be reproduced in order to find funding for Larson.”
“The people in most need receive the fewest benefits when the only park walkable from their home is in a state of disrepair,” according to the Springs MAC letter, specifically pointing out the poor condition of the portable toilet. “It sends a message that the people who use this park don’t matter enough to have a nice infrastructure.”