Service providers make suggestions, voice support for temporary homeless shelter
It would cost at least $100 million to house every unhoused individual in Santa Barbara.
At least that’s what Barbara Andersen, the collaborative facilitator for SB ACT, estimated, considering the city’s need for 262 emergency shelter beds, 120 transitional housing units, 232 permanent supportive housing units and 158 permanent housing units.
After the Santa Barbara City Council’s emergency meeting Tuesday night — which was called to explore options for an emergency, temporary homeless shelter to reduce wildfire risk — many questions were left unanswered as city staff now scrambles to pull together a plan for the city’s requests in two weeks’ time.
What the council did agree on was to have one or multiple temporary locations to house individuals, now living in fire-prone encampments, through the end of September. Proponents say that would allow fire crews, CalTrans and Union Pacific to abate the hazardous encampments and provide a safe place for the camps’ residents to sleep.
While council members asked for a number of different safety aspects for the shelter, such as a sobriety requirement, a long-term solution in October, wraparound services and full security, local homeless service providers voiced their support, suggestions and concerns with the rapidly developed plan.
The following were key considerations they voiced to ensure council’s consideration: trust, engagement, adequate services, funding and collaboration.
Council member Kristen Sneddon asked service providers directly that when it comes time to transfer these encampment residents to the temporary shelter, “What happens if they say no?”
Jeff Shaffer, the director of initiatives at SB ACT, recommended the city hire two City Net workers right away to start building rapport.
“They have to have trust with whoever is going to be bridging them to that site,” he told the News-Press following Tuesday’s meeting. “How do we bring trained case management professionals and folks who know how to engage people and begin that process, which takes some time before you just start moving people out?”
He said that in his experience, staff need 11 to 13 contacts with these individuals before they can ask the individuals to do anything, and movement must be focused on a solutions-based approach rather than just changing a destination. Mr. Shaffer recommended fully dedicated staff hit encampments every day starting as soon as possible to make these contacts, with the same people interacting with the same homeless individuals every time.
“These individuals living in high fire risk areas and the wildland urban interface live there for a reason,” Ms. Andersen said. “They do not want to partake in the system, they do not want to partake in services and they prefer to be left alone.”
She said that engaging, reengaging and educating these encampment residents about options available for them, along with the significant fire risk that “could be catastrophically worse this year,” could resonate with them. Most individuals experiencing homelessness tend to frequent an eight to 10 block radius at maximum, and Ms. Andersen said if they’re being removed too far from their comfort zones, they won’t be immediately open to the options provided by the city.
“But the second part of that is that we need to have good options — options that they will accept and options that they will pursue, and do so in a way that makes them proactive and positive members of our society so they do not create negative impacts to the neighborhoods that they are being temporarily relocated to,” she said.
Mr. Shaffer said he was concerned, too, with coming up short in October. He said homeless individuals will lose trust with local providers if after 120 days, after preparing documents and getting ready for solutions, they’re sent back out onto the street.
“The next time you offer them something, they’ll be like, ‘Remember what happened in the summer of 2021?’ That’s definitely a concern,” he said.
Another area of concern was the use of alcohol and drugs at the shelter. Councilwoman Meagan Harmon supported an alcohol- and drug-free space.
Ms. Andersen said sobriety cannot be required in a housing-first model, but it can be suggested, in order to prohibit drug use after entry.
“There’s a mandate on it that you can’t do that (require sobriety), and second, you wouldn’t be successful because a high percentage of the folks that are going to be in the encampments are going to have addiction issues,” Mr. Shaffer said.
Both he and Ms. Andersen stressed the need for a high level of services on site on that front, including addiction specialists, health services and sobriety services.
Mr. Shaffer said one of his discussion points in the coming weeks will be to see if local providers with detox and sobriety centers can make available a few beds to assist those with more intense addiction needs.
However, while the providers expressed worry at the short amount of time available to coordinate this effort, they said the urgency is there.
“We are beginning to see the county, the city, City Council, city staff, businesses, residents and hotel owners on the same page as far as what needs to be done. That’s a huge step,” Mr. Shaffer said. “We have both public and private resources on the table, which is huge.
“I think this brings attention to the need, ultimately, for these sustainable congregate and non-congregate shelter beds, that then allow us to do this not just as an emergency, but sustainably over time … If there’s 50 people we can create a program for, that’s a success. That’s 50 people who have probably been outside for a while that will be permanently housed, which is huge.”
City staff will return to the City Council in two weeks with a rough plan for approval, as public and private providers collaborate to gather all the necessary services.