Mike Foley

Paul Wellman (file)

Mike Foley

Casa Keeps Catching Flack

Milpas Neighbors, Businesses Owners Blast Homeless Shelter

Thursday, October 11, 2012
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Two weeks after city staff determined the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter on Cacique Street is in compliance with its conditional-use permit after a formal complaint was lodged against the nonprofit, Santa Barbara business owners and neighborhood residents packed the City Council chambers last Thursday to vent about ongoing disruption and crime along the lower Milpas corridor.

Many attendees of the four-hour Planning Commission meeting, which focused on the shelter’s biannual progress report, claimed the majority of these disturbances are caused by the homeless people residing at Casa Esperanza and that the issue has negatively impacted businesses and the quality of life in the neighborhood.

The meeting was opened by SBPD’s Captain David Whitman, who discussed rising crime rates in the area around Casa Esperanza. Since 1999 when the shelter opened, the frequency of Part 1 crimes — more serious or violent offenses — has risen 150 percent while the occurrence of Part 2 crimes — less serious, nuisance-type crimes — has grown 174 percent in the neighborhood and gone up 950 percent at the shelter itself. Captain Whitman emphasized this might be due to the police frequently encouraging citizens and shelter employees to call them when problems arise.

Casa’s executive director, Mike Foley, spoke to the commissioners about less and less funding and resources available to the shelter and about the efforts made by Casa staff to provide Santa Barbara’s homeless with much-needed services while also making an effort to comply with the city in order to maintain a safe and profitable environment for lower-Milpas residents and business owners.

One of the ways in which the Casa aims to achieve amicable relations is through a Good Neighbor Contract, which sets rules shelter residents must comply with in order to remain in their programs. Violating this contract results in varying consequences, which Foley didn’t articulate. “Casa Esperanza is looking forward to finding common solutions for ourselves and the Milpas neighborhood,” he said.

Many complaints made by the Milpas Action Task Force (MATF) and the Milpas Community Association (MCA) alleged that Casa’s members have been not only disruptive but also dangerous. MATF chair Julianna Reichard said many residents feel Casa Esperanza staff is unwilling and unable to take responsibility for the damage done to the neighborhood as a result of the shelter. “The perception of the neighbors is that the Casa resents them,” said Reichard. “They have asked the Casa to modify their ‘Good Neighbor Contract,’ and they have not. MATF and Casa have never come to an agreement on what the ‘Good Neighbor’ policy should state.”

At the end of the meeting, several Milpas Street business owners took the podium to voice similar dissatisfaction. Brent Reichard, owner of the The Habit nearby, expressed outright frustration with what he said is the city’s inability to proactively solve the problem. He said as a city taxpayer in the city it’s “unacceptable” that he and his employees have to consider putting in an $80,000 security system to prevent customers from being harassed.

David Peterson, owner of the Milpas Street McDonald’s, addressed the commission, accompanied by several employees including a young woman who had been spit on by a homeless man upon finding him in the bathroom and asking him “if everything was okay.” A McDonald’s manager was also reportedly hit under his eye by a homeless man and had to be taken to the emergency room, where he received 18 stitches, but he couldn’t afford the plastic surgery doctors recommended.

In his closing statement, Planning Commissioner Michael Jordan noted there existed similar problems two years ago, calling the system “broken.” “The supporters of the Casa need to go after the safety of the community with the same conviction they have to help the homeless,” he said, adding the MAC and MATF need to make such efforts, as well.

Commissioner Deborah Schwartz emphasized the importance of mutual respect and a goal of coexistence rather than finger-pointing. “It’s time for us all to step back and self-reflect,” she said. “It takes good faith; it takes a baseline mutual respect. … I’m going to remain optimistic, but if this process continues to be broken, we’re going to meet at the cliff’s edge.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Unacceptable is right. Why isn't a COP driving back and fourth or riding around this area on their bike CONSTANTLY? I am always hearing about compassion for the homeless. How about some compassion for Joe citizen who is attacked or harassed by the homeless? Fine, some of these peeps are down on their luck and trying to climb their way out or may have mental health issues. Others are career addicts/criminals who will continue to milk the system and run around bullying people in the neighborhood for their benefit. Do something COPS. I wonder why the homeless never get into it with the gang members and vice versa? Just wait till it gets cold again and they all start coming out of the wood work.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2012 at 10:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Bimboteskie..You are right on and I can not agree with you more.
SB seems to have more homeless than other areas I've been to. I've heard stories that there are cities in CA that actually send their homeless to SB because of all the free services that are provided. I have compassion for those that have hit hard times and who truly want help. But it is hard to have compassion for those who take from others and damage and destroy things and injure others. It's time for SB to stop being so nice and get TOUGH. Ask the people who volunteer at the homeless facilities if they would like to have those shelters in their neighborhood. I'll just bet their answer will be NO WAY!!

flipflopsforever (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2012 at 11:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sounds like once again the city has done nothing to help resolve an ongoing problem. Schwarts's pious statements about coexistence is a perfect example of do-nothing government.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2012 at 11:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hamburger Habit gets double-whammied: panhandlers and obnoxious bums hang around the Milpas location, and scraggly street creeps lounge on the brickwork by the State Street store.
These are not the same homeless people that used to be here; the new kids are often nasty, and there's a fair dose of real crazies who yell at pedestrians and behave aggressively while pushing stolen carts around. The tourists and gullible students fall for flim-flam and enable them with handouts.
It's right to help those truly in need, and it's pointless to sustain a sub-city of dangerous bums in alleys and under trees. The people who feed both the ducks and the homeless in the park need to consider the consequences of fostering dependence, and their own obligation to accept responsibility for those they attract.
In some ways, Santa Barbara's resources are overloaded because of self-satisfying largesse. "If you build it, they will come"...and they have. Subsidized Homeless, Inc., does that, not the neighborhood or the merchants who suffer as a result.

anemonefish (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2012 at 12:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Have the neighbors asked for a COP to be at/near CASA in permanence? It seems like a necessity.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2012 at 1:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Solve their problems and that will resolve the complaints. But we don't really have a government capable because of conservative values to "do nothing." Remember "government is the problem" or the less government catch 22 mantra since Reagan. Turns out that less government actually equals more problems. We're seeing the results all around. Then remember the trend to close the government systems down and farming out to non-profits and churches. Remember the Thousand Points of Light b.s. There are some 'Lights' but not enough administrating to social services. It is failure. States rights, countys rights. Move to Santa Barbara Carifornia. So we need Federal action/programs to give these people and especially the younger ones services, jobs and hope. Then we can deal with our own. Instill the idea that we care and that we would be a better country with a less corporate style of government. Provide for the general welfare.

DonMcDermott (anonymous profile)
October 11, 2012 at 1:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There are a lot of bums in SB. There is a difference between someone who is homeless because of mental illness or other real disadvantage and someone who is just a bum. We should help the former and roust the latter.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
October 12, 2012 at 9:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"...nuisance-type crimes — has grown 174 percent in the neighborhood and gone up 950 percent at the shelter itself. Captain Whitman emphasized this might be due to the police frequently encouraging citizens and shelter employees to call them when problems arise."


Bonus hypocrisy points to Task Force Chair (and MCA puppet) Julianna Reichard who complained and complains that her own group is dysfunctional and ineffectual when her deliberate ineptitude and indifference is why this group is failing under her incapable leadership as its chair. Just one example: letting the biggest blowhards speak/yell out of turn and shouting over other group members.

Tip for 2013 city council candidate Mike Jordan:
You will need to try another schtick besides calling for unfunded city spending and bashing on the homeless, because the rightwingers in this town will luv you like the Tea Partiers luv Mitt Romney. Sharon Byrne will be adopted and blessed as their "conservative" candidate to replace Grant House long before you ever will, Mike. They are just not that into you and never will be because you have a long record in the video archives, yes on Y, and more.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
October 12, 2012 at 10:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I was there. Most of the people who were at the Planning Commission were supporting the shelter. You could tell by the purple ribbons and stickers they were wearing. We all want to see less homeless. But the way to do that is to get people in touch with the mental health, public health and social services they need. Getting rid of the shelter won't help the neighbors. Outreach teams to bring people inside would help.

LC (anonymous profile)
October 12, 2012 at 4:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Getting rid of the shelter is surely not the answer, but expecting them to exert some influence over the behavior of their clients doesn't seem unreasonable.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 8:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Most of these unfortunate souls require assistance. I do believe that the businesses in the Milpas area are suffering from both the daily and not infrequent hostile interactions with some homeless and the decrease in business that comes with the territory. This decrease in business hurts not only the business owners but really depletes our quality of life-.i.e.- avoiding the lower Milpas area altogether, the ball field, and even the waterfront. My thoughts are that most of these folks need assistance and as a result we should make it easier for them to access social services and medical care. Therefore, an effective and humane solution is simply to have Casa Esperanza work with the city and county and relocate the shelter right near or at the county social service complex on Calle Real. That way, mental health and medical care is easily available. Social services can provide service right there. The county psychiatric health facility can provide emergency inpatient care for those who require it. Also, police services are right there also if needed. There are no businesses in the immediate proximity of that complex and not very many homes. If a truly needy person would want help, they could acquire assistance there away from business and away from the very tax productive tourist industry that our South Coast so heavily depends on.

Obama2012 (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 11:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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