Friday morning, leadership from People Assisting the Homeless Santa Barbara provided a virtual update for the public and elected officials on the organization’s work to address homelessness.
Presentations were given on pandemic impacts, Project Homekey, interim housing, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and employment. A Q&A session followed, and both Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo and Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Gutierrez were in attendance.
“I fully support your operations. I know how difficult it is,” Mayor Murillo said to the leaders of PATH. “We work with SBACT and City Net and we have these broad goals of more housing, more supportive housing, more case management, and then there’s just the day-to-day fires that we’re putting out — very hard work, and nobody knows better than you how hard it is to help folks who present with these challenges and do it in a humane way.”
PATH leadership that presented during the Zoom meeting included Joel John Roberts, PATH CEO; Jennifer Hark Dietz, PATH deputy CEO; Tessa Madden Storms, PATH Santa Barbara regional director; and Zachary Schlagel, PATH senior director of public policy.
By the numbers, leadership reported that PATH Santa Barbara — since merging with Casa Esperanza in 2015 — has served more than 3,500 people. Nearly 600 have found employment or increased income, and 475 have made it into a home.
PATH made its interim housing available during COVID-19 as well, including 100 beds for men and women. Of those beds, 20 are supported by Cottage Health; 24 by County Behavioral Wellness; and 56 by PATH, with referrals from Goleta, Santa Barbara Police, County Probation and County Adult Protective Services.
Regarding employment, staff reported that PATH has been providing the following services: a career and vocational skills assessment; development of a customized Individual Employment Plan; Soft Skills training (interview skills); access to a full-service computer lab; training workshops such as resume building, employment law and email 101; job retention services; life skill and money management support; and supplementary item support.
The organization has also been moving individuals through the rapid re-housing to permanent supportive housing process. In rapid re-housing, short-term financial assistance and supportive services are provided to quickly connect individuals and families with permanent housing. Permanent supportive housing (the first of its kind in Santa Barbara) is long-term leasing or rental assistance paired with supportive services to assist homeless persons with a disability to achieve housing stability.
Jonathan Castillo dove into the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which launched Listen, Learn and Lead initiative in June 2020. He referenced a study released in 2016 that showed that 13% of the general population identifies as black, but within the homeless system, 60% of individuals experiencing homelessness identify as black. In the initiative training, he said leaders and staff members use a racial equity lens to look at systemic racism as it relates to homelessness.
PATH’s COVID-19 response produced a PATH Cares Emergency Staff Task Force to make critical organizational decisions and began tele-case management as a safe alternative to in-person services. Most notably, in four months, the organization launched six COVID-19 emergency housing sites, including the Project RoomKey non-congregate shelter in Santa Barbara. It’s also working on opening four Project HomeKey supportive housing sites in Los Angeles and San Diego.
In regards to Project RoomKey, Mayor Murillo said, “I could fall and kiss the ground. Those kinds of resources? Exactly what we need.”
Priority legislation was also presented in the update, including: Assembly Bill 71 (PATH’s top priority), which would provide ongoing funding in the state budget to support ending homelessness; AB 115, which allows for affordable housing in transit-friendly commercially zoned areas; AB 369, which creates presumptive eligibility for Medi-Cal for individuals experiencing homelessness and allows health care providers to be reimbursed for street medicine; and Senate Bill 424, which begins a new state tax credit for employers who hire individuals experiencing homelessness, among numerous others.
Ms. Madden Storms, the regional director, said that PATH Santa Barbara sees, out of homeless individuals coming in, 65% men and 35% women.
“But it does seem like we’ve seen, unfortunately, more women experiencing homelessness in the past six to 12 months,” she said. “And we do tend to see an older population come through at least the shelter program.”
Cleveland Foy, an attendee of the Zoom meeting, was homeless at one point and said PATH opened its doors to him.
“The energy and motivation of the staff every day really helped me,” he said. “Everyone was always smiling. My case managers really kept me alive and they didn’t play any games, which kept me straight and narrow…
“I have been to a lot of places in Santa Barbara that have turned me away even as a veteran, but PATH opened its doors to me, so I thank you very much.”
Visit https://epath.org/regions/santa-barbara-central-coast/ to learn more about the homeless shelter’s operations.