Petaluma homeless residents anticipate March move-in at tiny home village
Bradley Brown has been staying at a temporary shelter on Petaluma Boulevard South this winter, weathering the rainy season in what he said is a sizeable private room, accompanied by daily, hot meals, case management as needed and other city-provided services.
The temporary space, at the COTS Family Center, has served as a sort of staging area for Brown, who was identified three months ago as a candidate for Petaluma’s first tiny village community.
When he got his first chance to step inside one of the units during a ribbon cutting Tuesday, Brown said he was excited.
“I like it. I think it looks very nice, seems pretty warm in here and seems well-built,” Brown said as he stood inside one of the rooms. “I’m excited about it, my own space.”
Brown, 51, who is from Eureka, will be the first resident to move into the newly unveiled People’s Village in Petaluma, an interim housing community that was delayed by more than two months following pandemic supply chain issues.
At least nine of the planned 25 housing units have been installed at the site alongside the Committee on the Shelterless’ Mary Isaak Center homeless shelter on Hopper Street site. Residents, including Brown, are expected to move in starting mid-March. Until then, crews are working to complete insulation of the housing units, as well as set up bathroom facilities, community gathering spaces and a dog run.
The project was initially expected to be completed by the end of December or the beginning of January, but shipping and supply chain issues prompted a long halt to delivery of the unit materials.
Petaluma allocated $1.7 million of Federal American Rescue Plan funds to curb the ongoing homelessness crisis, including contributions to the tiny homes project, and Sonoma County contributed another $750,000 toward the project. Petaluma has spent more than $1 million on the People’s Village project thus far.
Once the village is complete, it will offer residents services such as job assistance, mental and behavioral health programs and case management to help residents ultimately transition to permanent housing following their stay in the People’s Village. City officials initially said residents would get six months maximum in the community before they are transferred out, but COTS shelter services manager Robin Phoenix signaled Tuesday that timing of their stay may depend on residents’ needs.
Brown, who currently is employed at a local Dollar Tree, hopes to stay for six months and is looking to get connected to permanent housing.
“We realize that some people may take a month, some people may take six months, some people may need a year to be able to get stable enough and directed enough to be able to get into a place of their own,” Pheonix said. “So we are really excited that we have the flexibility with how long folks are going to be able to stay in one of our beautiful shelter units.”
COTS has already compiled a waiting list of about 30 residents for the roughly two-dozen units, said village services manager Stacie Questoni. Among those with top priority include residents with health vulnerabilities and those staying at an encampment near Steamer Landing Park.
Donna Alger, who said she lives beneath a nearby overpass, was at Steamer Landing Park Tuesday afternoon, where about two dozen people have taken up residence at a growing encampment amid an ongoing legal battle with the city. Alger said she looks forward to moving into the People’s Village, and is expecting to do so around March 15.
“(The rooms are) small, but they’re something other than a tent,” Alger said. “I know that getting into something like that might help me get back on my feet, get a job and stuff like that. Because it’s really hard here in a tent. There’s no bathrooms, no showers.”
Meanwhile, a number of residents at Steamer Landing said they would be glad to move in, but factors such as location and village requirements are holding them back. Daniel Vanderford said he stayed at the COTS Mary Isaak Center for about a week earlier in the year, but was removed due to his ongoing drug use. Vanderford said he would most certainly want to go back if officials allowed, and would be grateful if he was offered a spot at the People’s Village, especially because of the “peace of mind.”
“You’re always worried about something out here, losing your property,” Vanderford said. “It would be nice to leave my property and know it’s not going to be stolen. It’s been 10 years since I’ve had that.”
Melody Thornton, another resident at Steamer Landing, was not as pleased. Thornton said she would move into the People’s Village, but the 10 p.m. curfew set to be enforced at the community is not reasonable.
But COTS chief development and communications officer Jamieson Bunn said COTS regularly allows exceptions to the curfew rule for those working late shifts.
At Tuesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, who was joined by City Manager Peggy Flynn, Assistant City Manager Brian Cochran, Housing Manager Karen Shimizu, council members Mike Healy, Brian Barnacle and Kevin McDonnell and Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, among others, said the tiny homes community was a step in the right direction.
“We’re celebrating this event while we’re meeting one of our city goals, which is make a city that works for all,” Barrett said. “This is really a big step in that direction.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to a source error, an earlier version of this story mischaracterized the COTS policy on exceptions to its curfew rules.
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5208.