Let’s find ways to help transients and Santa Barbara
Did You Know? Bonnie Donovan
The Tent City in Anisq’Oyo’ Park in Isla Vista had fewer than 20 occupants in 2019.
By the end of 2020, more than 50 tents existed even though landlords had COVID-19 restrictions against evicting tenants. After Good Samaritans installed 20 64-square foot portable shelters on the parking lot of the Isla Vista Community Center, the Tent City remains the same capacity of approximately 50 tents.
Last Sunday, another incident occurred with a West Beach homeless woman who chronically causes problems and refuses help, according to SB ACT/City Net. Only after she placed another homeless person’s tent and belongings on the actual train tracks was there adequate response to help her.
The day before, she started attacking one of the neighbors, and daily she causes damage to neighborhood properties. We have contacted the emergency number for SB ACT/City Net and have yet to receive a reply until hours later.
Homeless problems are 24/7.
Isn’t the money given to SB ACT and City Net to take the burden away from the police? Yet the only help we get is from the police!
We asked a respectable homeless veteran who frequents the West Beach area if we could do anything to help. He remarked that he had already been offered help. But when he arrived at the housing opportunity, he discovered his roommates would be two pregnant women and 14 children.
He figured if anything went wrong, he would be to blame so he left. Tuesday’s homeless encounter was a man sleeping on the sidewalk, who three hours after email contact with SB ACT, left at a neighbor’s insistence.
He returned an hour later, and a resident gave him a flier with all the services available for the Santa Barbara homeless. When asked how he got here and where he was from, he said “several trains, from South Central (Los Angeles).” He said he was on probation for attempted murder.
West Beach has experienced transient problems for years, and the problems have increased with time. The results of alcohol abuse now includes those with drug abuse.
In October 2018, the West Beach community again asked the Santa Barbara City Council and Mayor Cathy Murillo for help. Suggestions included volunteer policing patrol for the area and having ambassadors available in the hope that additional uniformed patrol would prevent prolonged loitering.
The problem continues, and hotels are now being labeled as “hot zones” for travelers (not advised for lack of safety).
Hotels report that reservations are being canceled. In a meeting last Wednesday, the 2018 suggestions for help resurfaced as new solutions.
In 2018, California had a homeless population of 134,000, as reported by the California auditor. We expect the state’s number has increased in the last year of COVID-19, to perhaps 150,000.
Isn’t this an emergency because homelessness continues to grow? Available housing for the poor is declining because of rising costs, and the poor are increasing because of open borders and middle-class flights to other states. California’s population of 40 million is 11.5% of the nation’s population, but has 24% of the homeless. Only Washington, D.C., has a higher per capita of homeless.
If we get serious about converting existing, large empty buildings into homeless housing, perhaps we can get ahead of this situation.
Couldn’t the National Guard/Seabees be called in for assistance under an emergency order? Look at their competence and efficiency with their assembling the temporary hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis.
Several empty locations come to mind and could be utilized on a temporary basis. A plus is none are near neighborhoods. Think of the Sears building, county properties north of the Sheriff’s Office and the area of County Mental Health and Earl Warren Showgrounds.
Rent the Sears building/property, and modify it for families, couples, and singles without addictions. Use the county property north of the Sheriff’s Department as a tent facility or Pallet homes built by the National Guard. The same set-up at the state-owned Earl Warren showgrounds without interrupting the equestrian facilities. Rent the West Wind Drive-in Theatre in Goleta for the same set-up.
This format spreads the responsibility to the city, county and state. This formula would allow for separation of homeless with addictions vs. those without.
One of the current shelter locations is Salvation Army’s Santa Barbara Hospitality House. It has been on Chapala Street since 1970, and its results are often positive for their clients.
A spectrum of programs is needed and utilized. The Santa Barbara Hospitality House offers two programs: residential treatment and withdrawal management for those experiencing substance use disorder. Many of the clients in these programs are homeless, but it is not a requirement. There are 24 beds available for this program.
The length of stay is dependent on Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness. Typically, after 30 days the client will be re-assessed, and extensions in the program may be offered. In addition, the Hospitality House also offers 45 beds of transitional shelter. This program is designed to help people obtain and maintain employment or obtain other financial support so that they can move into permanent housing quickly. Case management and counseling is offered in both programs.
If a client went from withdrawal management to residential treatment to transitional shelter, they could stay up to two years. The staff try to help people obtain permanent housing within a year.
Staff members also provide follow up and aftercare as desired.
Did You Know? thinks the city and county of Santa Barbara should partner with the Salvation Army to manage one of our suggested locations.
In Santa Barbara County, various local, state and federal agencies are involved in spending millions of dollars to address the homeless crisis, however the problem seems to grow.
In the county and city departments, between the seven to eight officials working with homelessness, the salary and benefits cost yearly is over a million dollars.
Is there a more cost-effective way to help the homeless?
The cost of Santa Barbara’s city services related to the homeless misbehavior is more than $4 million a year in mitigation, repairs, cleanups, training and other restorative measures for the Fiscal Year 2020. Departments involved are the library, police, fire, parks & recreation, community development and environmental services.
This does not include monies that fund numerous other agencies that serve the homeless in Santa Barbara.
For example, SB ACT has been paid $175,100 to date for Fiscal Year 2019-20 and FY 2020-21. City Net has been paid to date $842,432 of their $1,153,806 for April 2019 to June 2021. They requested an additional $70,000 for services rendered during Sept-Dec 2020.
In addition to all these costs, the taxpayers who are picking up the bills, are being denied access to the library, the parks and other recreation areas because of the occupation by the homeless.
To see for yourself, enter “encampments” in the search bar of the city’s website (www.santabarbaraca.gov). Open “Cost of City Services” related to homelessness.
In an interview recently, Mayor Murrilo said she favors a possible tax increase — perhaps a countywide property tax — to finance more services for the homeless. She was a Santa Barbara City Council member for six years and now mayor for four years, and we have the worst homeless crisis in Santa Barbara’s recent history.
Since we do not have enough housing for Santa Barbara residents, when addressing the homeless, shouldn’t the first question be: “How did you get to Santa Barbara, and would you like a free ticket home?” This is an aspect of the Family Reunification Program. How can we help local homeless if other jurisdictions continue to send their homeless here?
Easter is a sign of new beginnings. We need to stop, take a breath, and work together on this crisis. Ask yourself how can you help?
“Let everything you do be done in love.”
— I Corinthians 16:14