Homeless assistance prolonged due to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped local organizations from assisting the homeless.
The process of getting homeless individuals into permanent housing has taken longer due to the pandemic, though groups like People Assisting the Homeless and the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara have remained steadfast in their efforts.
PATH’s 100-bed transitional facility is currently at full capacity. Over the course of the pandemic, it has seen as many, but not more, homeless individuals come in seeking shelter as prior to the pandemic. Under ordinary circumstances, those staying at PATH’s shelter would stay there for around three to six months. According to PATH regional director Tessa Madden Storms, average stays have gotten a bit longer since the start of COVID-19.
“It’s been a little bit more difficult, understandably, during this pandemic,” she said.
When the pandemic and widespread lockdowns began in the spring, Santa Barbara County implemented the California Department of Social Services’ Project Roomkey. Through this program, homeless individuals are put up in an undisclosed hotel on an interim basis.
Santa Barbara’s Project Roomkey site is staffed, in part, with PATH personnel and has a capacity of 75 units. Those who are admitted are most at risk of COVID-19 due to their age or underlying medical conditions.
After staying at a Project Roomkey location, homeless individuals are eventually transitioned into permanent housing. Ms. Madden Storms said PATH is managing around 18 people expected to be transitioned within the next couple of months.
While those staffing Project Roomkey sites are working with homeless people to teach them skills necessary for living in an apartment, the Housing Authority is also involved with the program. According to Housing Authority deputy executive director Skip Syzmanski, the advocates for homeless people living at the Project Roomkey site reached out to the Housing Authority about placing those individuals in permanent housing.
Around four people from Project Roomkey are now living at the Housing Authority’s recently opened Gardens on Hope, an 89-unit facility specifically for low-income seniors. The Housing Authority is currently filling Gardens on Hope with tenants, a process that has been slowed due to COVID-19.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, the Housing Authority would have moved all of its prospective residents into the facility at one time. Instead, residents have been moved in by phases.
Mr. Syzmanski remarked that many of the processes to get individuals into Housing Authority units have been delayed due to COVID-19. For example, interviewing potential tenants has become a more complicated, slower process as the Housing Authority tries to avoid conducting person-to-person interviews due to the pandemic.
Though the process of getting homeless individuals into permanent housing has been delayed, Mr. Syzmanski said Housing Authority projects haven’t.
“We always are looking for properties,” he said.