After many encouraging words and vigorous speechifying about “thinking outside the box” and “being on the bus,” the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved the creation of a task force to study the citywide dynamic of homelessness, with an eye towards blunting the spillover effects of the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter on lower Milpas Street and the Cabrillo Boulevard ball fields. The task force idea came in response to pointed remarks made to the council on April 1 by Casa Executive Director Mike Foley about how for one year City Hall had ignored a proposal to create a “recovery zone” near the shelter to reduce the opportunity for public intoxication by shelter guests and their friends. Foley also noted that every year on April Fool’s Day, the shelter was required to put 100 homeless people out on the streets – half its capacity – according to the terms of their operating permit. Councilmember Iya Falcone, who is believed to be running for mayor next year, seized the moment to call for such a task force. Councilmember Helene Schneider, who will also be running for mayor, seconded the effort. Schneider played a key role in the creation of the recent “10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.”
Many homeless people voiced enthusiasm for the creation of the new task force; most volunteered to serve on it. So did representatives from the city’s main shelters. Exactly what the task force will examine remains yet to be decided. The creation of a recovery zone heads the list of possibilities. While Falcone suggested the involvement of even Santa Barbara judges – whose authority lies beyond the pale of council jurisdiction -Schneider stressed that the task force needed to focus on specific programs and ones that the council could enact.