Santa Barbara County attempts second year of homeless housing grants
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury concluded that the county faces obstacles to housing the homeless population through California’s Project Roomkey and Homekey funding.
The jury’s recently released report provided recommendations to the county and cities to help tap into these grants.
Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said many of the guidelines have already been executed.
“I am pleased the county has already implemented most of the Grand Jury’s recommendations through the Homelessness Strategic Plan, encampment response protocol and county budget process,” he told the News-Press. “The Grand Jury properly identified we need to continue to find additional sites for supportive housing throughout the county, and wraparound services are essential for ensuring the long-term success of people transitioning out of homelessness.”
County officials struggled to find hotels that would open rooms to a high-risk population as part of Project Roomkey, the report says. Roomkey provides temporary housing with wraparound services whereas Homekey focuses on permanent housing, usually in converted motels.
Generally, hotel owners were not welcoming to the idea of housing homeless people, the report says. The county established its Roomkey program with one South County hotel that rented one wing for a limited amount of time; it could not find a North County location.
At the beginning of 2021, the hotel returned to its tourism clientele, and officials found a location with room for 80 people in South County and rented 10 rooms in Santa Maria.
More than 90 individuals have been sheltered in the Roomkey program, as of October.
The city of Santa Barbara and the county are operating Roomkey sites currently with 80 at the hotels. CityNet will re-house participants from these sites, per a recent agreement with the County utilizing State funds.
Local governments were given five weeks from the Homekey funding announcement to submit a proposal with properties, remodeling plans and partners.
Applications were due Aug. 13. The buildings had to be occupied by the end of the year.
Santa Barbara County worked with officials to speed up the construction process of the property, an office building in Lompoc previously used by the County’s Behavioral Wellness Department. (The building was an apartment complex before being used as an office, so crews converted it back.)
“The success story in Lompoc has been seen by housing leaders in Sacramento as a model for California,” Supervisor Hart said.
The current application process gives recipients a year to finish construction.
Officials told the Grand Jury they “scoured the universe” for hotels willing to sell to the County for the project and found one option.
The county is drafting plans for the current funding cycle and has identified two properties in South County and one in North County, Community Services Department Director George Chapjian told the News-Press. It has submitted one application so far for the ongoing cycle.
The Grand Jury recommends the county and cities to list all the possible building or renovation sites. Mr. Chapijan said officials hired a consultant in 2019 to evaluate properties.
“This has helped move the effort to identify feasible and available sites forward,” he said.
The state could help by identifying state-owned properties that could be acquired for Homekey, but it was otherwise involved in the application process, he said.
County staff hold two working groups with an intent to identify and progress Homekey applications. Santa Barbara City staff are engaged in both groups.
Roomkey and Homekey are tools the county can use to help the homeless population, but there are other funding sources to utilize.
In October, Santa Barbara County Supervisors approved an allocation of more than half of 2022-2023 American Rescue Plan Act funds, or $12.6 million, to address homelessness and housing.
They also earmarked $1.2 million of restricted funds in the current fiscal year for bridge housing, like hotel housing initiatives.
Homeless Services has requested $26.6 million in ARPA funds to be expended over three years, and the Supervisors have provided $22.2 million.
The county hopes to add 100 beds, including a new shelter, tiny homes and pallet homes, according to the Grand Jury report.
“The Grand Jury is doing good work, and we appreciate their interest as it relates to our County’s houseless population,” Mr. Chapjian said. “Their work has been helpful.”
To view the full report, go to sbcgj.org/2021/keystohousing.pdf.