“Don't trust anyone over 30.” It was the iconic message of the 1960s. Fifty years later, that expression appears to have been turned on its head. Now it's, “Don't trust anyone under age 30 — or house them.”
No other age demographic has been hit harder by the recent economic downtown, in terms of unemployment and homelessness, than those 18 to 29. The status of young adults in Sonoma County is nothing short of shameful. In 2009, a survey found 268 young adults among Sonoma County's homeless population. Two years later, that number was up to 701. By 2013, it was up to 1,128.
In many cases, these are individuals who, through no fault of their own, come from unstable family environments. Due to alcohol or drug abuse, incarceration or other issues, they've been separated from their parents. So they grew up in the care of foster parents. But foster care ends the day youths turn 18. And for 65 percent of foster youth in Sonoma County, the next step is life on the street.
Santa Rosa-based Social Advocates for Youth has been given an unprecedented opportunity to confront this problem. Sutter Health is offering to donate the former Warrack Hospital at Hoen Avenue and Summerfield Road to SAY for the purpose of opening an affordable housing complex for up to 63 young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
This point bears repeating. Sutter is donating this prime piece of real estate with the understanding that SAY will continue to lease back the Sutter offices that remain on the site for the handsome sum of $1 a year.
Unfortunately, this “Dream Center” housing complex is at risk of being torpedoed even before drawings are completed. Neighbors in the Bennett Valley area are raising alarms. Through a group called “Community Unite,” they're conducting a high-octane fear campaign to kill this proposal, raising concerns about a potential increase in drug abuse, gang activity, vandalism and other problems.