Former homeless advocate and well-known Santa Barbara street person James Lee Magruder, 44, died Monday at Cottage Hospital just a day before the City Council committed research funds aimed at ending chronic homelessness in Santa Barbara. Magruder’s story underlines the basic argument touted by those championing the study — that Santa Barbara County wastes millions of dollars by ineffectively addressing the problems related to homelessness. Magruder, for instance, was cited or arrested by Santa Barbara police 848 times since 1982, mostly for public intoxication, but also civil disobedience and assault. Over two-plus decades, Magruder checked in and out of the county jail and Cottage Hospital’s emergency room countless times, at great cost to the county.
Roger Heroux, the county’s former health czar, estimated there were 6,200 homeless people countywide; roughly half of those, Heroux said, reside on the South Coast, sapping local government resources by some $18 million per year. Add in the cost of jailing them, Heroux added, and that number spikes considerably. By investing in more cost-effective ways to serve and house the chronically homeless, Heroux and other homeless advocates contend the county could save millions of dollars each year