In another local newspaper [The News-Press], a guest commentator [Lanny Ebenstein] pays tribute to the leadership that the Milpas Community Association has taken in bringing a “paradigm shift” to the issue of homelessness. As someone who has been the chair of the Milpas Action Task Force for the past five years and the director of a local homeless effort for nine, we welcome this group in assisting us to achieve the innovative approach we have brought to this issue. Contrary to what was stated, this shift has been in the works for years before the reconstituted Milpas Community Association came into being.
The writer teaches economics at UCSB but doesn’t seem to have done his homework when it came to writing this piece. The city, county, nonprofit, and church communities have been coordinating their efforts for years. These groups’ efforts, the City of Santa Barbara’s 12-point plan, the efforts to eliminate chronic homelessness, and the most recent homeless count are all excellent examples of groups putting their own agendas aside and working for the common good.
If the writer had consulted Ken Williams, the key outreach worker for the County, he would have learned that a group of service providers meets weekly to make sure there is no duplication of services. The work in Santa Monica is no different than ours has been for years. All outreach workers seek to help homeless people reunite with families and the Milpas Action Task Force undertook a major effort two years ago to stop the sale of large alcoholic beverages in and around the Milpas corridor. While the writer is able to assert a nexus between homeless and crime in the Milpas corridor, the city police in their monthly briefings to the Milpas Action Task Force have not drawn this conclusion. If giving people a roof over the heads and a meal each day is a hand out, then Casa Esperanza is guilty of providing some humane services but they have given a hand up to nearly 400 people this fiscal year alone in finding housing.
The writer complains that Casa is too big, yet in all major American cities a one-stop shop has been found to be the best model of centralizing services and making sure people in recovery get the help they need to re-enter our society and become taxpaying citizens again. Had the writer spoken with homeless experts he would have realized that and would not be advocating small shelters that are very difficult to place in our expensive real estate market.
The writer says there are too many campers parked on city streets. Had he spoken to the local nonprofit that helps 110 people living in vehicles nightly he would have discovered this number is actually [getting] smaller. This program is now seen as a model for many cities in America.
He is right, though, about one thing: Reducing homelessness is important for our city. We’ve been doing just that for years and our community needs to know that.