‘There’s hope’: Early resident of Petaluma People’s Village gets his own place
Bradley Brown took a seat on his brown leather couch in the tidy and clean living room of his new one-bedroom, one-bath apartment near downtown Petaluma.
The front door was open to let in the late-morning breeze, with sunlight brightening the space as his playful gray-and-white kitten Alice galloped around the room.
Brown, a formerly homeless Petaluma resident, was among the first to move in to the city’s interim housing community known as the People’s Village more than 10 months ago. Located on Hopper Street next to the Mary Isaak Center and operated by the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), the 25 tiny homes of the People’s Village were touted as a way to help those in need transition into permanent housing.
Brown’s move is a People’s Village success story. Thanks to the help of COTS and city staff – as well as a housing voucher from the Sonoma County Housing Authority, which helps cover much of the apartment’s expenses and utilities – Brown obtained his own place at the beginning of February.
With the housing assistance, he only needs to pay $370 per month in rent, making the transition much more doable.
In fact, “It was easy,” said Brown, now an assistant manager at the Dollar Tree.
“I was already established at being inside, I already had my routine, and actually my routine just stayed the same. I’m just closer to work than I was. And I’m in an area I really wanted all along.”
The apartment, he said, which is connected to a multi-family home, “just amazingly became available and it just worked out.”
The People’s Village opened last spring after city leaders declared a homelessness crisis in September 2021. Along with a temporary place to live, residents staying in one of its tiny homes also gained access to on-site laundry and shower services, mental and behavioral health services, case management, job services and more.
Brown was among the first nine people to move into one of the 72-square-foot one-room cabins, where he stayed for 11 months as he worked to regain his footing. Before living in People’s Village, Brown stayed for three months at a temporary family shelter on Petaluma Boulevard South – and before that, he lived in a tent in Steamer Landing Park.
Chris Cabral, CEO of COTS, expressed excitement over Brown’s step up.
“Bradley utilized many of the COTS supportive services to increase self-sufficiency and realize success,” Cabral said. “We are all so proud of him and the hard work he put in to gain permanent housing.”
Brown’s not the only one. Since opening last March, Cabral said, People’s Village has successfully moved seven chronically homeless individuals into permanent housing.
This spring, another supportive housing development called Studios at Montero is set to open in Petaluma, in partnership with the city and Santa Rosa-based nonprofit developer Burbank Housing. Four more People’s Village residents are planning to move into permanent housing there as well.
‘They came through’
Now fully moved in to his new apartment, Brown credited generous workers with the city’s Downtown Streets Team for helping him furnish the place.
“They came through for me,” Brown said. “They brought me this couch, they brought me the dresser. They got it from friends and family and people they knew, and they gathered it all up and brought it here over a couple of days.”
Brown said for three or four months before securing a job with Dollar Tree, he joined the Downtown Streets Team, which gives people looking to navigate their way out of homelessness work opportunities like cleaning city streets.
The opportunities were welcome following a difficult road for Brown, who came to Petaluma two and a half years ago after experiencing homelessness in Humboldt County for about five years. That followed a difficult divorce and heightened depression due to his father’s death by suicide, he said.
“The way my depression came out through me is I started to hear voices, and it was really, really awful,” Brown said. “For seven years that went on. I tried medications, I tried everything. I could not hold a job. So I basically just lived on food stamps and whatever I could shoplift.”
From there, Brown said, came a painful cycle of drug abuse and run-ins with police. Once, he said, he led officers on a two-hour chase because he didn’t want them to take his uninsured car away.
“I made a bad decision, a really bad decision,“ he said. About three of his five years of homelessness in Humboldt were spent in jail, Brown said, mostly for drug offenses or for having manic episodes while on the street.
“I’ve never had trouble before that in my entire life, except for that period with my depression,” he said. “It was horrible, downright awful being in jail.”
Help from COTS
Brown eventually decided he needed a change of environment, and to redeem himself. Having been born in Santa Rosa, he decided to return to Sonoma County.
After coming to Petaluma, Brown said COTS staff put him in touch with an attorney who helped him gather letters from case managers, Brown’s doctor and others to send to the probation department in Humboldt. That took the pressure off him from county authorities there, where he could have faced more jail time.
That crucial help from COTS case managers allowed Brown to breathe a little easier.
“Because I was doing well (in Petaluma), they did away with the probation and recalled the warrant,” he said, adding that Humboldt officials decided it would be more of a detriment to put him back in jail. “I’m very lucky.”
Brown said he also feels fortunate for being able to rebuild his life, noting the decency he’s been shown by Petaluma police, the COTS staff and community members.
“I got better help, much better help, here,” he said. He looked forward to visiting his mother soon, for the first time in more than two years.
For others who may be in a similar situation, “There’s hope,” Brown said. “There is. You gotta put in the work though. You can’t expect everything to be given to you. You have to do the work and accept the help too.”
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5208.