A new sense of hope is arising at the Isla Vista Pallet Project, where 26 previously unsheltered individuals now have a place to safely lay their heads at night.
The project, spearheaded by county officials and the Good Samaritan Shelter, began in mid-December after 20 small homes were built on the Isla Vista Community Center property. The eight-by-eight square foot homes come with two beds, electricity and heat. Materials for the homes were provided by the Pallet Shelter Company.
These homes act as an alternative to congregate shelters and provide homeless individuals a safe place to stay during COVID-19. Each home is designated for one individual, though members of the same household are allowed to stay in the homes together.
Pallet home residents have access to three meals a day, community restrooms and on-site supportive services from case managers. For those with untreated medical conditions, Good Samaritan Shelter coordinates with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to give residents access to needed treatment.
A lack of stability is one of the main obstacles homeless individuals face while living unsheltered, but providing even just a temporary living situation can help them get back on their feet and provide them with the tools they need to move into more permanent living situations.
“Being able to sleep inside with a heater and being able to have access to basic needs — shelter, showers, restrooms, warm food, clean clothes and stabilization has really provided a sense of hope (at the Pallet homes),” Sylvia Barnard, executive director of Good Samaritan told the News-Press in an email.
Thus far, Ms. Barnard said there have been many successes among residents in the Pallet homes. To date, two residents transitioned to programs with intensive supportive assistance, seven have accessed substance abuse treatment, four have received much-need surgeries, two have become employed, eight have been able to access benefits like insurance or nutritional assistance programs, three have been linked to county mental health service and three are working with the county’s public defender’s office.
Prior to the opening of the Pallet Project in Isla Vista, Ms. Barnard and Kimberlee Albers, the county’s homeless assistance program manager, visited a pallet home community in Riverside County at the start of November.
Seeing the impact the pallet homes had on previously unsheltered individuals in Riverside, the county quickly allocated funds to build a temporary shelter in Isla Vista to address the desperate needs of homeless individuals.
With more than two dozen homeless individuals in a single location, the pallet homes allow county case workers to streamline service access, Ms. Albers said. Often, connecting homeless people with needed services takes days and weeks of consistent contact and trust-building, and this can be difficult when individuals wander from place to place. But with a confirmed location, case managers can address the needs of homeless people consistently, building needed trust with individuals while extending a helping hand.
“When someone is in a location that we know where they are, for instance like the Roomkey (project) hotels, those touches can happen much quicker,” Ms. Albers said.
She later added, “When we can have a location like the pallet shelters, or a hotel room or one of the regular emergency shelters, we can move the process much faster.”
The Pallet Project at Isla Vista is set to end in June 2021, and officials are hopeful this will give residents time to find an alternative housing situation in the next few months, whether this means moving to another temporary living situation or a permanent housing location.
However, Ms. Barnard said about 90% of residents are still in need of basic documents, like IDs and Social Security cards, in order to make the move to a permanent housing situation. Staff from Good Samaritan are currently working with partner agencies to resolve these roadblocks so that residents will have opportunities to move to a more permanent shelter once the pallet project reaches completion.
“Our goal is to make sure that while they’re there, everyone has an opportunity to have some sort of temporary or permanent housing opportunity,” Ms. Albers said. “(Good Samaritan) is working diligently towards that goal. That may just be the opportunity to move to a congregate shelter, we don’t know for each person what that opportunity will look like, but the hope would be that everyone has some sort of opportunity to be sheltered or housed.”