As homeless shelters decreased their capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, some homeless individuals in Santa Barbara began sleeping in encampments at De la Guerra Plaza.
The pandemic has been particularly hard for homeless individuals as shelter beds became more scarce to comply with social distancing restrictions.
To address this issue, Santa Barbara city officials, county officials and service providers at City Net are collaborating to aid homeless individuals across Santa Barbara County, including De la Guerra Plaza.
The plaza is one of the main areas where homeless individuals congregate and create encampments in downtown Santa Barbara. During the pandemic, the city has noted a growing population of homeless individuals gathering in the plaza.
René Eyerly, environmental services manager for the city of Santa Barbara, said city officials are caught in a “catch 22” currently, as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance recommends leaving encampments alone to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and transitional centers have limited capacity to accept more unsheltered individuals. Without a place to send homeless individuals, the city is allowing people to stay at De la Guerra Plaza until housing options become available.
“We appreciate the community’s patience with all of this as we are trying to maintain our compassion and help our neighbors who are without homes right now,” Ms. Eyerly told the News-Press. “It really is a tough time and a difficult situation for everyone involved, but we are working on things.”
Police regularly patrol the plaza and have built relationships with a few of those who regularly inhabit the area, Ms. Eyerly said.
“Our officers work in conjunction with City Net partners who are doing a really good job of trying to build trust and relationships with the people living on our streets right now,” Ms. Eyerly said.
City Net, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness through outreach, is partnering with Santa Barbara County and Santa Barbara city officials to bring homelessness to a functional zero — meaning enough shelter space and services would be available to move a homeless individual into stable housing as soon as possible.
The nonprofit does outreach in various areas across Santa Barbara County, including at De la Guerra Plaza and State Street in Santa Barbara. City Net staff focus on building trust with homeless individuals through multiple encounters before eventually sharing opportunities to move into more stable housing situations. Even during the pandemic, unsheltered individuals have been moved to shelters or other temporary living situations thanks to the conjoined efforts of the county, city and City Net.
“It’s a little slower and a little more tricky because of the pandemic, but we definitely are still getting people moved into shelters,” Ms. Eyerly said.