Randy Clay is Lead Outreach Specialist for the Petaluma Sober Circle, a new collaboration designed to encourage street homeless to enter substance abuse treatment and our shelter program, and find housing.

How is your partnership with the police department going?

The exchange of information is marvelous. The police have experience with a lot of the folks who are camping or hanging out downtown, so we can collaborate and we encourage people toward treatment and shelter. This is a very proactive police department.

How is the business community helping?

Obviously, they’re really affected by street homelessness. There’s a business cost to it — and also an emotional cost of seeing people down on their luck and suffering.


The word about the program is getting out. We’ve been speaking to groups and I’ve been introducing myself to business owners. I’m getting more and more calls. Sometimes a store manager will have a relation- ship with the person they’re calling about and will be able to introduce me. That connection helps to establish trust and increases the possibility that they’ll be receptive. We encourage people to call me directly when they have a concern.

How do you manage your emotions when you see people in such extreme circumstances?

No one wants pity. I want people to know that I see their dignity. That’s the groundwork that will get people to trust you and start thinking about making a change. It can take a while, but I’m seeing less and less resistance. When I first started visiting people in their camps, a lot of times I’d get told to leave. But now, they’re happy to see me.


A lot of these people in addition to dealing with drug or alcohol use, are battling some severe mental illnesses. The best approach always is to be direct, help them with their immediate needs, and let them know I’m concerned for their safety and health.

Can you tell us about a success?

I’m very optimistic about a guy I’ve been working with recently. He’s been around a long time. We had a few conversations and I let him know we were here to help him when he was ready. He reached his tipping point, and I took him to treatment. Thirty days later, I picked him up and brought him to the shelter. He’s been a great resident. He works hard, does his chores, and goes to meetings.


Every success is different. At first, maybe someone will just take a pair of socks and some wet wipes. Maybe I’ll get them lunch. Tomorrow they might ask me to help them get treatment. When that happens, I act right away. We get in the car and we go. We have residential rehab beds dedicated for them, so there’s never any waiting. When someone is ready to change, we’re ready.

If you see someone who needs help, call Randy directly: 707.322.2732.

Working together, we can do more. Petaluma Sober Circle is a collaborative project of COTS, the Petaluma Police and Fire Departments, the Petaluma Health Care District, the Petaluma Health Center, Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County DHS, St. Joseph Health and Kaiser Permanente.