How the Tubbs Fire Affected Santa Rosa’s Homeless Population

SANTA ROSA -- Jeremy Marney lives with his mother inside their van on Apolo Way in Santa Rosa.

Their vehicle is just one of dozens parked there, many of those with families seeking more permanent places to live.

Those with vans and RVs are the lucky ones. Others just have tents and boxes.

“I never really noticed that many homeless people before until the fires happened,” Marney said.

Hans Hofer has lived in his RV for the past three years, but he says in the past year, he's seen the number of homeless in Santa Rosa increase.

He says finding affordable housing was next to impossible, even before the Tubbs Fire struck.

“The place that I lived in before, I was paying $710. They want $1,500, right? And it’s a dump,” Hofer said.

It’s a ripple effect that could continue to force even more families out on the streets.

“We predict that probably in the next year there will be a significant uptick in homelessness,” Jennie Lynn Holmes, senior director of shelter and housing with Catholic Charities, told FOX40.

Holmes says there was a six percent increase in homelessness in the first six months after the fires.

“People who have entered the new rental market are pushing out our lower income. Not because of any fault of their own just because there's not enough housing in our community yet,” she said.

Building is happening in Coffey Park but it’s not happening quick enough and the people who would be living there are taking up rental properties elsewhere in the city. Now, those with lower incomes are unable to get properties to rent for themselves.

“That is putting people into precariously housed situations where they’re doubled up, tripled up and eventually that becomes unsustainable and that’s when we see people enter the homeless system of care,” Holmes said. “It’s typically a year or so after an initial crisis.”

But Holmes says her group, Rebuilding Our Community, or ROC Sonoma County, has already re-homed more than a hundred families.

She says there is light at the end of the tunnel, as both the city and the county have low-income housing projects coming online soon.

“There are a lot of affordable housing and housing construction being proposed. And what`s exciting is it`s being proposed for the first time looking at density, looking at going up, all of those things. And so that`s where we can actually rebuild better than we were,” Holmes said.

Marney says he`s not leaving Santa Rosa, no matter how tough the living situation gets.

“This is home,” he said. “My family and friends are here.”