Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, California, has opened a new homeless services center opened to help families and others at risk of homelessness, with the specific goal of helping families.

“This is a Catholic Charities project, but it is built on proven partnership,” John Pavik, director of communications and public relations for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, told CNA Sept. 14. “We acknowledge no one single entity can or should try to solve homeless alone. It takes community support and fellow nonprofit and government cooperation.”

Caritas Center, which opened in Santa Rosa on Monday, is a 48,000-square-foot, three-story facility built at a cost of $53 million. It provides “wrap-around” services that aim to help people secure permanent housing and prevent at-risk people from becoming homeless, Catholic Charities said Sept. 9.

The center has a 192-bed family shelter, child care facilities, chapel space, and a health care clinic. There are also 38 recuperative beds for people recently discharged from the hospital.

A “drop-in” center allows nonresidents access to shower and laundry facilities, mailboxes, and bike and storage lockers. They may also meet with case workers.

Caritas Center is now the largest homeless services center in Sonoma County. As families move into the center next month, it will replace Catholic Charities’ aging shelter facilities in a former hospital building next door. This facility has a capacity of only 138 beds.

Sonoma County, north of the San Francisco Bay Area, has about 500,000 residents. Almost 3,000 of them are homeless, but only a few hundred are part of homeless families.

“Our community has already invested heavily in our homeless system of care,” Pavik told CNA. “Our number of families in this system is low enough now that we are striving to end family homelessness, a primary goal of Caritas Center.”

In February a Sonoma County count of people experiencing homelessness found 2,893 people living outdoors or in shelters, a figure considered to be an undercount. It is a 5% increase from February 2020. Those living outdoors or in vehicles are now estimated at 2,088, a 23% increase in two years, the Santa Rosa newspaper The Press Democrat reports.

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The 2020 count reported 80 homeless families, making up 235 people. Of these, 97% were sheltered. Another 59 were unaccompanied children, most of whom were unsheltered, while another 245 were transitional-age young adults. These figures do not include the 508 who were chronically homeless.

For a community to achieve “functional zero” homelessness, Pavik said, it must ensure that the number of people experiencing homelessness does not exceed the community’s ability to house them.

Caritas Center services are part of this plan to help the homeless. Its onsite clinic will have physical and mental health care provided through Santa Rosa Community Health. The center’s Head Start program for preschool-aged children facing homelessness will be operated by the nonprofit Community Action Partnership Sonoma.

The Children's Center at Caritas Center in Santa Rosa. Justin Warmack/Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa
The Children's Center at Caritas Center in Santa Rosa. Justin Warmack/Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

On-site health care limits unneeded and expensive emergency calls and keeps beneficiaries engaged on the site, Jennielynn Holmes, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, told The Press Democrat.

She predicted success in a design that incorporates many services on one site.

“Caritas will be the only facility of its kind to bring all these elements under one roof, provided by the experts in the community,” Holmes said Sept. 9. “By replicating this model, we can dramatically alleviate if not end homelessness, not only in the county, but across the state and beyond. Our organization and all of our partners are ready to share the blueprint and invite others to the table. So many cities around the country are working hard to end homelessness, and we want to link arms with others who share our mission.”

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Pavik said that Catholic Charities is “motivated to serve by Gospel teaching” and “inspired by the love and teachings of Christ.”

“We serve and advocate for vulnerable people of all cultures and beliefs, prioritizing those experiencing poverty,” he said.

The facility staffers also have the necessary qualifications and training to follow best practices.

Caritas Center has the backing of $35 million in private donations, $6.9 million in funding through California New Market Tax Credits, and $11.5 million from Project Homekey, California state government grants for housing that serves the homeless.

The Day 1 Families Fund, a project of Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, gave an additional $5 million to support both family program operations and innovation at the Caritas Center. Other backers include Tipping Point Community, Providence Health System, and Kaiser Permanente.

The Caritas Center is part of a planned Caritas Village, which will incorporate affordable housing and other options for people at risk.

Caritas Homes, next door to the homelessness service center, is a planned apartment complex of 128 affordable homes being built in partnership with Burbank Housing, an affordable housing construction and management nonprofit. These apartments aim to serve unmarried workers, vulnerable seniors, veterans, and families whose incomes cannot keep up with rent. There are 64 apartments presently under construction.

Including Caritas Center, Caritas Village is expected to cost $120 million or more.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa helps about 20,000 people per year. Its work in five northern California counties helps beneficiaries find housing, achieve financial stability, and progress on immigration hurdles they might face.