The Living Room Launches New Service Center in Santa Rosa for Homeless Women and Children

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When the Living Room opened its new day center for women and children on Monday, it helped a Sonoma County woman develop a plan to get her life back on track after suddenly losing her home.

She didn’t think she would ever find herself in this position, the woman told staff at the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit.

Alethea Larson, director of programs for the Living Room, said women and families struggling to afford Sonoma County often fall into homelessness after a traumatic life event.

“(Homelessness) isn’t always what you think it looks like,” Larson said.

The Living Room’s new 3,000 square foot center in Santa Rosa aims to help women in similar situations find lasting homes while providing hot meals, job training, counseling and other services. The site, at 1335 North Dutton Ave. in an office park east of the 101 freeway, also refers women in need of medical care, case management, or legal help to other agencies and nonprofits.

During the pandemic, the Living Room transformed its former day center near Cleveland and College avenues into transitional housing for women and their families. After deciding to keep the three apartments and a studio as accommodation, the association set out this fall to find a new site to relaunch its day services.

“We needed our big services back, so we needed a whole new campus,” Larson said.

To fund campus operations, which are expected to cost about $350,000 a year, the nonprofit relies primarily on new private donations, Larson said. The Living Room also receives money from the city and county. And he expects federal stimulus grants through the American Rescue Plan Act approved last year.

Three full-time staff members and a rotating group of volunteers run the center Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We’re really grateful that the doors are open and the women are coming back,” Larson said.

According to the county’s most recent homelessness data, 80 families were identified in a one-time count in early 2020. Almost all lived in shelters or transitional housing. The count found 709 homeless women, representing 27% of the county’s homeless population of more than 2,700.

The Living Room was founded in 1993 to help Sonoma County women and their children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Last year, it housed around 30 women and children in several local houses, apartments and family units.

Other county nonprofits serving at-risk women and children include Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, Social Advocates for Youth, and the YWCA. The county’s Family Justice Center, located on Mendocino Avenue, functions as a one-stop-shop for many of these organizations.

During the first day at the new Living Room site, bilingual staff members connected a handful of women and their children with various services, said Larson, who is looking forward to starting art therapy classes. on site and potentially a teen mentorship program with Spring Lake Middle School.

“It got me so excited that I got up even earlier this morning to go to work,” Larson said.

You can reach editor Ethan Varian at [email protected] or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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