City wants law enforcement to be a top priority
For the first time ever, the city of Santa Barbara will have the presence of a homeless outreach team during the evening and weekend hours in the downtown corridor and along the waterfront.
The city will also be continuing its commitment to provide homeless outreach, case management and housing navigation services throughout the entire city during weekday hours.
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council approved a new contract with City Net to provide these expanded services, given its proven track record and responsiveness to both the needs of the unsheltered population and the concerns of residents, business owners and visitors, city officials said.
But not before first ensuring that enforcement of the law for those who commit crimes would be a top priority.
The item appeared on Tuesday’s consent calendar, which usually is approved en masse by the city council without discussion.
But in this case, council members voiced concern about the safety of Santa Barbara residents, following a number of public speakers who asked for help in protecting the city and its inhabitants.
The speakers talked about aggressive homeless people who are violent, threaten, vandalize, panhandle and generally make them feel unsafe.
Among those was Jonathan Pu’u, co-owner of Pu’u Muay Thai Santa Barbara, a martial arts studio on State Street, who said he’s been personally threatened no less than five times, once by a man wielding a hatchet.
He talked about how a transient set his business’ Dumpster on fire, how he had to clean up human fecal matter, how another transient exposed himself to staff and then urinated in front of his business, and how some homeless people are openly dealing drugs on State Street.
Another was Rebecca Brand, who spoke about being attacked by a homeless woman on Christmas Eve after witnessing a rock break the front window of Rudy’s Restaurant on upper State Street. Ms. Brand said the transient, who was at the scene, forcibly took her cellphone, hurting her in the process.
This set up the opportunity for council members to make sure City Net would first prioritize arrests and keep residents safe. Council members were assured they would, followed by efforts to house people experiencing homelessness and provide mental health counseling, drug treatment, employment assistance and state and federal benefits as needed.
Apparently satisfied, the council proceeded to approve the consent calendar, which included the one-year, $450,000 agreement with City Net, with an option by the city to extend the pact an additional year.
Councilmember Mike Jordan said he was happy to see the expanded hours because it will fill a gap in service after hours.
“I’m glad we are going where we are going today because the impacts don’t follow a normal workday, so I’m appreciative,” he said. He suggested that city staff review the program’s achievements at the six-month mark to decide on whether to expand the night and weekend hours to other areas of the city.
Councilmember Eric Friedman also supported an early review of the program prior to expanding outreach locations.
“There are challenges throughout the city, and this action today is by no means minimizing those,” he said. “It’s actually expanding a program to see how it works and then if we need to, we can evaluate on expanding it to other parts of town.”
Robin Elander, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara, said she was pleased to see the expanded service levels.
“This is an absolutely critical service to enhance not only services for individuals experiencing homelessness to get through the systems but to enhance the economic vitality of our beloved downtown district,” she said.
City Net has established relationships with local government agencies and nonprofit service providers supporting a collaborative approach that has yielded positive, measurable outcomes both throughout the county and with its efforts in Santa Barbara, city officials said.
In Santa Barbara over the last year, City Net has assisted in permanently housing 22 individuals, enrolled 100 clients in case management, achieved 57 street exits, and made unduplicated outreach to 712 individuals.
The scope of services of the contract approved on Tuesday includes locating, identifying and building relationships with unsheltered people to provide immediate support, intervention, de-escalation and connections with homeless assistance programs, mainstream medical and mental/behavioral health and social services, and housing programs.
In addition, the new contract includes evening and weekend street outreach from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. along the downtown and waterfront areas from Thursday to Sunday.
The city has contracted with City Net since 2019 and issued a Request for Proposals in late 2022 when that agreement was set to expire. Evenings and weekend hours were identified as an area of need and included in the RFP. City Net submitted a proposal meeting all criteria.
The $450,000 agreement is for one year with an option to renew for a second year, using Permanent Local Housing Allocation funds.
Santa Barbara has a network of homeless service providers operating within the city, and street outreach and case management services were available from organizations that operate citywide primarily Monday through Friday during normal business hours.
Prior to establishing a partnership with City Net, street outreach was sporadic and carried out by volunteers, staff said.