Shelter Offers the Homeless Much More Than a Winter Refuge

Concerns have been raised about the decision by PATH Santa Barbara (formerly Casa Esperanza) to alter its Winter Shelter program. Much of the news coverage has been negative and did not include important background. First and foremost, homelessness is a housing issue — basically, the lack of affordable housing. Second, government and philanthropic funding for homeless shelter services, other than achieving employment and short-term housing, has been redirected to permanent housing solutions. The national mantra for dealing with homelessness is “housing first” — permanent housing with services, not shelter. Permanent winter shelter operations such as the former Casa Esperanza model are viewed as institutions that perpetuate homelessness, and some of these views are valid. Santa Barbara’s Freedom Warming Centers, which provide winter shelter for the homeless, offer a far better approach as they function largely through the support of faith communities and “pop up” only when the weather warrants them; PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) is part of the Freedom Warming Centers collaboration.

Casa/PATH’s Winter Shelter operation was a short-term response to homelessness and did nothing to end long-term homelessness in Santa Barbara. Ending homelessness is PATH’s objective. It will shelter those who need it but will not stop at basic needs. PATH wants to help people make it home.

Before transferring the Casa operation to PATH, the undersigned former Casa Esperanza boardmembers learned a great deal. While local government officials, advocates for the homeless, business leaders, donors, and other compassionate individuals wanted Casa to “do it all under one roof” (a health clinic, lunch program, respite care for homeless people leaving the hospital, year-round shelter, and emergency winter shelter), the roof was simply not large enough, and funders were redirecting their resources to permanent housing solutions for the homeless, not short-term programs.

Adding the Winter Shelter every year produced rightfully angry neighbors and a program that did not integrate well within the facility. Imagine your home with 100 residents working to leave homelessness, and come December 1 another 100 people — who may have no plans to end their homelessness nor interest in services — move in for nightly stays (for up to four months). It was a short-term program that discouraged long-term permanent housing outcomes. PATH, a far more experienced shelter operator, quickly showed us that running a shelter that gets people off the streets and into housing was the needed goal.

PATH’s new Winter Shelter program is this: Between December 1 and March 31, PATH will continue to provide up to 100 additional winter beds for people every night if it is either 40 degrees or colder or when there is at least a 50 percent chance of rain forecast for two nights in a row.

We must recognize as a community that we are doing no one any favors by simply providing shelter. We have had a significant problem with homelessness in Santa Barbara for over 40 years. Approaches based solely on compassion do not alleviate the problem. We must do better. An institutional winter shelter is not the answer. It’s a short-term fix for those in crisis.

In turning to PATH for help, we want the community to know PATH is committed to programmatic solutions to homelessness. These include the following:

  • Rapid rehousing for those with a sustainable income source who do not need supportive services
  • Interim housing for those who need assistance in obtaining a successful housing placement
  • Employment and job training for those who are able to work
  • Permanent supportive housing for those who require ongoing services in order to retain their housing
  • Outreach to homeless persons living on the street

This is the work that PATH stands for. This is the work that will end homelessness. This is the work that solves problems that people have and that changes their lives for the better.

We want our elected officials, business leaders, faith leaders, neighbors, and friends to know that it truly takes a village to end homelessness. PATH Santa Barbara needs everyone’s support, along with the expertise and leadership of local government, law enforcement, health-care providers, philanthropists, businesspeople, the faith community, and volunteers of all kinds, to do the hard work needed to help the homeless make it home. This means that we are all on the same team, supporting each other, communicating effectively, and using our resources wisely toward the common goal of ending homelessness.

Boardmembers of Casa Esperanza, PATH Santa Barbara’s predecessor: Rev. Mark Asman, Rob Pearson, Sue Adams, Barbara Allen, Denny Bacon, Ron Fox, Mark Manion, Juliana Minsky, Dave Peri, Richard Ring, Holiday Vaill


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