It came as no a surprise that the Los Angeles Times devoted a six-part editorial series on the urgency of solving homelessness, given Los Angeles County has 58,000 people who are homeless. To put L.A.’s issue into perspective, 1,500 people are homeless in Santa Barbara County. The Times printed these editorials as the its editorial board continues to be concerned that the right moves are not being made, and have not been made in the past decade, to tackle the homelessness epidemic Angelenos face. This was a bold move by the Times, and we must question whether Santa Barbara should have a similar sense of urgency to prevent what L.A. is experiencing from happening in our town.
It is true that Los Angeles is not Santa Barbara, but it is fair to ask whether we are on the precipice of having a homelessness problem of our own. We should consider whether now is the time to build a sense of urgency to tackle homelessness.
Santa Barbara’s current rate of housing individuals experiencing homelessness is approximately 300 people a year. However, the point-in-time count — an annual measure of homelessness — has stayed consistent at 1,500 for the past 11 years. If we doubled our rate of housing to 600 people a year, we would effectively eliminate homelessness in just five years. And Santa Barbara County has shown promising signs of progress.
New partnerships forged this year between health-care providers Cottage Health in the south and Marian Regional Medical Center in the north are working with the region’s Medi-Cal provider, CenCal, to align homeless services and health care. Then there’s the Safe Parking Program. Led by New Beginnings Counseling Center, the program now has more spaces dedicated to people transitioning out of living in their cars than all of Los Angeles County.
But there is still more work to be done, especially in affordable housing. We all know how expensive rent is here. But it is important that our community recognizes that if fight the building of new affordable housing homelessness will increase.
The bottom line is that we need more housing for people at all incomes across Santa Barbara. The lesson of Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, and San Francisco, is that by opposing sustainable growth, we end up with out-of-sight housing costs and more people in tents on the streets. And it’s already happening.
The incentive to build is being squelched by the fear of growth and change, but it is our hope that change is on the horizon and we at PATH Santa Barbara are working to achieve that goal and build the housing our community needs.
In the last five years PATH [People Assisting The Homeless] has housed over 7,300 people and built nearly 700 permanent affordable supportive housing units across California. Here in Santa Barbara, PATH has helped over 250 of our homeless neighbors move off the streets and into their own homes. These are people like Anthony, who after eight years in and out of shelters and over 100 hospital visits, finally has an apartment he can call home.
As we work to find and build homes for people like Anthony, it is pertinent that we maintain a level of urgency. It is important that we continue to develop creative partnerships that ultimately site and finance new supportive affordable housing developments.
That is why we call on every member of our Santa Barbara community to act and feel the urgency to fight homelessness. It is up to us to do better to make Santa Barbara into the amazing community we know it to be.
Tessa Madden is the Regional Director at PATH Santa Barbara, where Chuck Flacks is the director of programs.