From Jail to Home with Help

Released Inmates Intercepted Before Return to Streets

Homelessness in Santa Barbara will no longer occur by 2017. At least that’s the goal for Bringing Our Community Home the organization that began its “10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Santa Barbara County” two years ago. So far, they have made some improvements, and now they are implementing a new aspect to the program that they are confident will accelerate success through the plan’s remaining eight years.

The Homeless Inmate Jail Discharge Planning Program was launched in November, 2009 with the hiring of a discharge planner: Tona Wakefield. It is in response to the normal cycle experienced by homeless inmates, the majority of whom suffer from mental illness, chronic alcoholism, or substance abuse. Or all three. Because there is not enough space in facilities meant for dealing specifically with these problems, jail has become “the largest de facto in-patient psychiatric and detox faculty,” said project organizers in a written statement.

The new program, which is coordinating with the County Sheriff Department, aims to fill the gap for these inmates between jail and the hopefully no-longer-inevitable return to homelessness. Instead of returning directly to the streets upon release from the County Jail, inmates will be intercepted by Discharge Planner Wakefield.

Wakefield’s main responsibilities as discharge planner entail connecting each homeless inmate with a case worker whom he or she can trust, and placing each person in permanent housing with appropriate necessary services. (Since the 10 Year Plan began in 2007, 108 units of supportive housing have been constructed, with 109 in the works.)

A busy woman, Wakefield also serves on the County Advisory Board on Drug and Alcohol Programs, and is a member of both the Justice Task Force and the Restorative Policing Task Group. Before her appointment as the discharge planner in November, she worked as a family advocate for the county’s Mental Health Association.

The 10-Year Plan originated with ample funding from grants and support continues for the new program. The Homeless Inmate Jail Discharge Planning Program is funded thus far by a $14,000 grant from the City of Santa Barbara, a $15,000 grant from the County of Santa Barbara, and a $5,000 grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara. Funding will go toward maintenance of the program as well as Wakefield’s countywide 25-hour per week discharge planning position.

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