Admittedly, solving the problem of homelessness is no easy task. However, I submit to you that what we are doing is not working — something liberals are loath to admit while they spend billions of dollars, yes, billions of dollars, doing the same things over and over again with little to no success. That is because activity is not an accomplishment.
Our local approach to homelessness includes spending hundreds of millions of dollars on alcohol, drug and mental health counselors; homeless shelters; warming centers; social services; medical treatments and jail. The result? More and more homeless people living in and degrading our community, including setting fires, defecating in the streets and camping wherever the hell they want. Then there is the occasional assault and murder because some of these people are literal ticking time bombs.
What to do? If you are a Santa Barbara County supervisor, you double down on all the above.
Flushed with extra COVID-19 cash and President Joe Biden’s inflation-busting giveaways, supervisors are trying to spend an additional $40 million-plus as fast as they can, going above and beyond what they have done in the past. They are now buying and building permanent housing because somehow our shelters are not enough.
They are renting motel rooms, buying motels, building huts, providing sanitation services to homeless camps, and even offering to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars taking care of the pets of homeless people. The largest expenditures have to do with the hush hush process of sneakily purchasing the Super 8 in Goleta and a Motel 6 on East Main in Santa Maria for the homeless.
If the county has the authority to ipso facto change the zoning within the boundaries of an incorporated city (Goleta and Santa Maria), is it still the right thing to do in light of the fact that the cities will lose property tax, bed tax and incur the costs associated with providing enhanced security as a result of the conversion of the motels? That is, the county imposes its will in a jurisdiction other than its own and then leaves the cities to deal with the ensuing mess?
What will these people living in these converted motels do during the day? Loitering and vagrancy does not go away simply by providing a bed. Will there be any rules or regulations pertaining to the residents of these facilities? If they break the law, do they get to stay? If they are a nuisance, will the supervisors remedy the situation?
Would it be too much trouble to bother to officially meet with city officials, and the neighboring properties of these motels to discuss the probable impacts of the conversions? In the case of the Santa Maria Motel 6, it is barely a block away from a junior high school. Is this a suitable location for a homeless facility? Will the residents be screened on a regular basis for drugs and alcohol use? Will criminal background checks be conducted?
The county started renting motels in the city of Santa Barbara more than a year ago. What are the results of that experiment? Have any of these people reintegrated into society because of the stabilizing force of a safe space to live? Is the county still having to provide security 24/7 due to criminal behavior?
Businesses and residences in our communities are routinely vandalized by the homeless. How come the county doesn’t create a fund to refund the costs to these taxpayers of the damage done to their property while they are flush with so much cash?
The slogan of Motel 6 is “We’ll leave the light on.” The county’s motto? “We’ll move the blight on.”
P.S. Supervisors, what to do when all that free money runs out?
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.Editor’s note: After hearing objections from the city of Santa Maria, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has put its plans for the Motel 6 on hold and delayed an application for a $17.9 million grant to purchase and renovate the motel.