City Net director explains policy for housing the homeless, says limits will be placed on alcohol
No illegal drug use will be allowed at temporary housing for homeless individuals at Rose Garden Inn on upper State Street, according to the City Net executive director.
Brad Fieldhouse talked to the News-Press about that as he discussed the possible implications for the neighborhood. In addition to the zero tolerance on illegal drug use, the executive director said only minimal amounts of alcohol will be permitted at the site.
Mr. Fieldhouse made his comments at a time when City Net workers are contacting homeless people at fire-prone encampments and informing them that temporary housing is available for them.
Truckloads of items are being removed from the Highway 101 corridor in the interest of preventing any future wildfires in Santa Barbara — like the Loma Fire in mid-May that engulfed a large portion of the Mesa hillside. After the fire, the Santa Barbara City Council put the wheels in motion and approved temporary housing at the Rose Garden Inn.
During the News-Press interview, Mr. Fieldhouse discussed concerns about drug use.
“We don’t do needle exchanges. I’ve heard all these rumblings — not going to happen,” Mr. Fieldhouse told the News-Press Wednesday. “… Illegal drug use would cause them to get kicked out of the program.”
The nonprofit leader referenced the concept of “harm reduction,” which is a national set of strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.
The concept is designed to make the transition into eventual, permanent housing less jarring for homeless people who are suffering from an addiction.
Harm reduction is a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs, according to the National Harm Reduction Coalition.
Mr. Fieldhouse said he knows of local organizations that do needle exchanges, and he said he would support people using clean needles if that’s what they choose to avail themselves to.
“You know where the people are coming from, where we’re working with them — they’re coming from encampments. They’re being displaced from where they’re living. This (harm reduction) is a response to that,” he said.
While illegal drug use won’t be permitted, tenants will be able to consume alcohol, as long as they are not a danger to themselves or others, Mr. Fieldhouse said.
In addition, the executive director said that they must check in with City Net staff and security constantly. The checks are complete with screenings and bag checks.
Not requiring sobriety in the facility, he said, is part of harm reduction.
“We recognize that these are adults. This is not a jail. These are not minors. In general, people drink. People use things that others may think are not in their best interests,” Mr. Fieldhouse said. “… We use judgment … Anything that would move toward the abuse of those substances that creates ramifications, we manage that on a case-by-case basis.”
Some shelters do require sobriety for entry, but he said not this one. As a general rule, he added, “somebody can watch an NBA basketball game and have a beer.” The difference is that it’s “behavior dependent” and not “hard and fast dependent.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo pointed out that the county’s Project Roomkey effort — which utilized motels to provide quarantine housing for homeless individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 — used the Rose Garden Inn. She said she heard “no complaints.”
“I think people were worried that clients were going to wander around the neighborhood, and that didn’t happen this whole time,” she told the News-Press Wednesday.
The Santa Barbara mayor expressed confidence in City Net’s training systems and staffing to ensure any issues are addressed on a case by case basis. She said in light of pushback for various reasons, she stands by the program at the Rose Garden Inn.
“People are questioning the money that we’re spending, and my response is that there’s not enough shelter beds. We don’t have enough shelters,” she said. “There’s not enough transitional housing. That’s what this program is. It’s a place for people to land when we move them from an encampment. This is the way that we are handling this very challenging problem, and it is costing money.”
Mayor Murillo added that five truckloads of items were removed from the Highway 101 onramp near the Department of Motor Vehicles, and Caltrans now has a policy of removing vegetation or trees that create screening for camps. Caltrans is also adding reinforced fencing and other structural changes to discourage people from setting up camp.
Mr. Fieldhouse added that 19 individuals have moved into the Rose Garden Inn so far. The period for the housing is 120 days, which started July 5.
He added that the team is “just getting everything dialed in,” but they are in the process of getting the rest of the rooms — the remaining 31 rooms — filled.
“People can see for themselves how it’s cleared out,” Mayor Murillo said. “We have asked Caltrans to reconfigure those areas to discourage camping.”
RAFAEL MALDONADO/NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS
No illegal drug use will be allowed at Rose Garden Inn, a temporary housing site for homeless people, said Brad Fieldhouse, the executive director of City Net.
Mayor Cathy Murillo said the county’s Project Roomkey effort — which utilized motels to provide quarantine housing for homeless individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 — used the Rose Garden Inn, She said she heard “no complaints.”