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Golis: Neighbors, not always friends

  • Social Advocates for Youth plans to convert the former Warrack Hospital into housing for young adults aging out of the foster care system. (The Press Democrat)

Walk the corridors of this former hospital off Hoen Avenue, and it's easy to imagine a safe haven for homeless young people. Sweep away the dust and cobwebs, haul away the random pieces of medical gear, apply a coat of paint, add a bank of showers and a communal kitchen and you're good to go. Each hospital room becomes its own low-rent apartment.

Clearing away the political obstacles won't be so easy. As a community, we live with our contradictions. We want to help others so long as there are no intrusions, real or imagined, on our own lives.

And so a plan to transform the former Warrack Hospital into a housing and service center for disadvantaged young people has lingered for more than a year while a local nonprofit, Social Advocates for Youth, tries to convince neighbors that they have nothing to fear.

Sutter Health, which shuttered the hospital in 2008, is offering to donate the buildings, which SAY would use for administrative offices, counseling, tutoring, job and health services for children 5 to 24, and emergency and transitional housing for young people 18 to 24 who are homeless or aging out of foster care. It would be called the Dream Center.

From countless other neighborhood controversies, we know how this goes.

Someone proposes a project — apartment complex, school, park, residential treatment facility, hiking trail, hospital helicopter pad or even a hospital — and then tries to persuade the neighbors that it will be OK.

The neighbors who aren't convinced warn of dire consequences and demand more studies. A few are moved to impugn the motives of the sponsors with an angry subtext that reads: You wouldn't allow this in your own neighborhood, but you're happy to put it in ours.

In turn, the neighbors are called NIMBYs, people who just don't want anything to change in their backyard.

And so on.

Early in the new year — perhaps as early as Jan. 23 — the Santa Rosa Planning Commission will begin to sort through the usual arguments and weigh the risks and rewards.

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