To address homelessness, several factors come into play — employment, mental health, real estate, domestic violence, community, drug use, and city ordinances to name a few.
The entanglement of these factors means there is no silver bullet to magically address homelessness. To make matters more complex, people involved in discussions about homelessness — the homeless themselves, nonprofit leaders, city officials, homeowners, business owners — weigh the factors differently. For example, someone might give more importance to housing than employment in a discussion, while another believes than jobs are the most important.
Participants in a community forum at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara got to see these complexities up close Tuesday. Several ideas were presented on how to address the numbers of people living on the streets, in shelters, in the woods and in their vehicles.
Those sleeping in vehicles face legal challenges due to city ordinances, which, with some exceptions, limits recreational vehicles to RV parks when used for living purposes.
“I got a motorhome and nowhere to park it because the city won’t let me,” said one speaker during the session for community input.
But the nonprofit New Beginnings Counseling Center, through its Safe Parking Program, provides overnight parking to individuals and families living in their vehicles, in cooperation with churches, government and nonprofit agencies, and businesses.
Some of the program’s issues, however, were pointed out by Celeste Friedman, who said Tuesday that she has been homeless for about a decade. A self-described well-educated Montecito native, Ms. Friedman said, “I rely on sleeping in a borrowed car right now. … Right now, my car is the home.”
Currently, she is number “240 something” on the Safe Parking Program’s waitlist.
In addition to the long waitlist, another issue is how safe these parking lots actually are.
One of the parking lots, said Ms. Friedman, is “a parking lot I wouldn’t park in in the day time as a woman alone. … I don’t want to sleep in a lot where nobody’s monitoring it.”
Ms. Friedman said there is a disconnect between the Safe Parking Program and housing. The program should be a stepping stone to a permanent residence, she said, but a supply of accessible residential units is needed.
To meet the demand for affordable housing, several suggestions were made Tuesday, including converting vacant commercial units into residential units, setting up a hostel-styled housing, increasing corporate responsibility regarding real estate, and local employment.
Some in Tuesday’s crowd, however, said that housing individuals without providing networks and resources is ineffective.
“They wind up getting evicted,” said an attendee. “Do they need help? Yes, they do. Proper help, proper care … counseling, services. …”
“I absolutely agree that we are very under capacity in shelter in the city of Santa Barbara,” said Kimberlee Albers, manager of the Santa Barbara County Homeless Assistance Program.
“From a homeless system, our job is really just to address the immediate housing crisis,” said Kris Kuntz, a development consultant who works with Ms. Albers’ team.
The crowd after hearing Mr. Kuntz’ words erupted into a flurry of “That’s why it’s not working.” Out of these comments, Maureen Ellenberger spoke up loudly about the role employment plays.
“This isn’t only about the dollars that we get from the federal government which is not enough to solve this problem,” said Ms. Ellenberger. “The jobs that we create in this community are what we call tier-3 jobs, service level. They’re doing service work. … Not only do we have to get people into homes that are homeless but we have to prevent people from becoming homeless.”
The discussion — sponsored by the County of Santa Barbara’s Community Services Department/Housing and Community Development Division — started off with Ms. Albers breaking down the statistics regarding the county’s homeless. Assessments of more than 1,050 homeless individuals in the county have been conducted over the past year.
Of the almost 900 individuals assessed in the city of Santa Barbara, the average age of someone homeless was 51; the average length of time homeless was five years and two months; approximately 90 veterans were assessed; almost 60 percent of the individuals stated that emotional, physical or sexual trauma led to their current episode of homelessness; and almost 70 percent are chronically homeless. Almost half of the individuals in the study lived outdoors, more than a quarter in shelters, and less than a quarter in vehicles.
Of the approximately 150 individuals assessed in Goleta and Isla Vista, the average age was 53; the average length of time homeless was almost seven years; approximately 10 veterans were assessed; almost 55 percent of the individuals stated that emotional, physical or sexual trauma led to their current episode of homelessness; and almost 75 percent are chronically homeless. Most of the folks in the study lived outdoors, with a few living in vehicles.
Of the almost 30 individuals assessed in Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito, the average age was 53; the average length of time homeless was approximately 5½; no veterans were assessed; half of the individuals stated that emotional, physical or sexual trauma led to their current episode of homelessness; and almost 45 percent are chronically homeless. Most of the folks in the study lived outdoors, with a few living in vehicles.
The brainstorming series to address homelessness in the county continues at 6 p.m. today at 1120 W. Ocean Ave. in Lompoc.
A list of emergency shelters, mental health counseling and basic needs such as food, shower and clothes can be found at https://www.santabarbaraca.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=33957.