A brightly lit room with colorful cabinets and furniture on the ground floor of Catholic Charities’ new facility in downtown Santa Rosa will soon be filled with young children learning numbers, letters and shapes.
That is the vision behind the ambitious $53 million building, now in its final stage of touch-up before it opens next week as a long-sought, cutting-edge refuge for families in dire need of housing.
Homelessness can have a particularly disruptive fallout on childhood learning, and early intervention of the type planned at the 48,000-square-foot homeless services hub has been shown to reduce the chances of future homelessness, too.
“We love our kids but we don’t want to see them here as adults,” said incoming Catholic Charities CEO Jennielynn Holmes, her eyes beaming during a recent tour of the Caritas Center, the sleek 3-story building that now sits on the corner of A and 6th streets, north of the Santa Rosa Plaza.
Caritas Center includes nearly 200 shelter beds, a health clinic and a drop-in center where homeless residents can access shower and laundry facilities and meet with case workers.
When it opens on Monday, it will be the largest homeless services center in Sonoma County, replacing the 138-bed family shelter Catholic Charities runs out of the aging former General Hospital building next door.
The center is part of the larger $120 million-plus Caritas Village, a city block-sized complex between A and Morgan streets that will also include 128 apartments for low-income renters being developed by Burbank Housing. Burbank has broken ground on the first phase of construction, 64 units, and will begin on the second phase when the family shelter is moved to the new space.
Catholic Charities on Friday celebrated the completion of the project with a ceremony to thank the community and donors — among them billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose charitable fund gave Catholic Charities a $5 million grant to operate the shelter.
With the project, Catholic Charities aims to serve a larger swath of the local population in need, while providing a wider array of support for those families and individuals.
Caritas Center will cement Catholic Charities, already the county’s dominant homeless outreach and shelter provider, as a regional leader in addressing homelessness. The organization wants to change how nonprofits engage with clients and raise the standard of care at Caritas, where they also hope to pilot different programs that officials hope reduces barriers to services.
“It’s an excellent example of the community collaboration required to bring a project of this scale to fruition,” said Kelli Kuykendall, Santa Rosa’s homeless services manager. “The design and programming will provide a new level of dignity and care for our homeless community members, as well as enhance the City’s efforts to address homelessness.”
Expanded family shelter
Caritas Center features two wings separating the family shelter and services for unhoused residents.
The family shelter in the east wing has an intake area on the ground floor.
Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County will operate the Head Start program for children 5 and younger. Catholic Charities is partnering with the YMCA to provide services for older kids in a separate classroom.
Meals for families will be prepared in a large, state-of-the-art commercial kitchen with new stainless steel appliances that opens up to a dining room and outdoor courtyard with seating. Catholic Charities plans to operate a food distribution program from the kitchen, too.
Families will live on the second and third floor. Each room is outfitted with three bunk beds with space for up to six people. There are eight rooms joined by an interior door for larger families.