Santa Barbara City Council questions housing solutions
The 42 Rose Garden Inn residents participating in the city of Santa Barbara’s pilot program will have to check in November — but their next address is uncertain.
The city’s nonprofit partner City Net has been operating the motel with wraparound services for former residents of fire-prone encampments since July 5.
Santa Barbara City Council approved the master lease with the Rose Garden Inn after the Loma Fire and dedicated $1.6 million and six months to the program.
City Council received an update from staff during its meeting Tuesday and praised accomplishments, such as cleaning 30 tons of belongings from overpasses.
But a problem waits just beyond the pilot program: What should the city do if it can’t move residents out of bridge housing and into a permanent home?
René Eyerly, acting sustainability and resilience co-director, said finding housing has been a challenge. Six participants have emergency housing vouchers, but it is difficult to find property managers that will accept the vouchers.
The program isn’t targeting more encampments until it can find housing for more of its current participants. Ms. Eyerly predicts it will take “another couple of months” to find housing for residents.
“We have a front loading problem,” councilmember Mike Jordan said in his comments. “We’ve got 50 people in a motel, and we don’t have the next step in housing ready for them right now if they elect to go.”
Ms. Eyerly said there are new funds the city can apply for to build more bridge housing and launch the program.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday the state was spending $2.75 billion to expand Project Homekey, a homeless housing initiative.
“We’ve had this experiment that can show that it works,” Ms. Eyerly said. “There’s still not the funding available — yet — to make investments into additional housing.
“That’s a big chunk of what that $2.75 billion statewide can be applied for. So if we propose some projects and they get funded, three is a very quick turnaround time for all of that. We could have some additional sites a year from now.”
The pilot program has assisted 58 individuals, and many of those living in encampments accepted the new shelter. As of one week ago, six participants secured employment.
Some homeless individuals attempted to move into the Rose Garden Inn or the former encampments (now cleaned) hoping to participate in the pilot program, Ms. Eyerly said.
The city of Santa Barbara has cleaned up six encampments as part of the program. Law enforcement continues to monitor the sites daily to keep them clear.
Since cleanup efforts, no fires have been reported at the six locations.
The city is in conversation with Caltrans about reimbursement for disposing of the debris, Ms. Eyerly said.
Councilmember Eric Friedman asked about the impact on the neighborhood. The Rose Garden Inn is on the edge of the North State and San Roque neighborhoods.
City Net staff patrol from Jack in the Box to Gelson’s throughout the day to look for suspicious behavior.
Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian said crime rates have not increased around the motel.
“Unfortunately, most of the interactions we’ve had with people that are potentially creating disturbances, either that we discover or we are dispatched to are not part of our program,” Brad Fieldhouse, City Net president, said. “The vast majority, if not all of them, are just others that we’re bumping into.
“They’re not tied to our program. I know that there’s an easy way to maybe assume there’s a connection there. But that has not been the case, in our experience.”
City Net will return next month for another update on the program.