Santa Barbara's Salvation Army hopes to add 14 bedrooms for permanent homeless housing at 15 South Alisos Street. Neighbors aren't so sure that's a good idea. | Credit: Google Maps

The Salvation Army has taken an option on 15 South Alisos Street for 14 bedrooms of much-needed homeless housing, but the compact neighborhood is full of families and children. Neighbors are opposed to a new homeless facility, in part because of its size and in part because of uncertainty of who their new neighbors will be. Recognizing the agitation among its would-be Eastside neighbors, the Salvation Army has set up a meeting to discuss the project on Monday starting at 6 p.m. at the Franklin Library on Montecito Street.

The Eastside also houses the Santa Barbara PATH shelter and the Rescue Mission, a few blocks away on the other side of Highway 101. The new permanent housing development would be two and three blocks from Adelante and Franklin elementary schools. “This neighborhood has its burden of enough homeless shelters and projects,” said one neighbor who asked to be anonymous. “Milpas has worked so hard to get things cleaned up. It’s time for the rest of Santa Barbara to share this burden.”

The opposition is a result of miscommunication, said Mark Gisler, executive director of Santa Barbara’s Salvation Army. The supportive agency has provided shelter and fed the hungry since 1889, in a ministry “motivated by the love of God,” its website states. Most recently the group opened a detox facility at its Chapala Street headquarters.

When the architectural review board sent out the first notice on the development, the project was termed “transitional housing,” generally recognized to be a homeless shelter. The project is actually for permanent supportive housing, Gisler explained, which means the residents are formerly homeless people who are ready and willing to be housed. Some are on disability, some are able to work, all have been through the county’s “coordinated entry system” that assesses individual’s level of vulnerability while living on the streets. Social workers will visit regularly, Gisler said, to keep providing supportive services from access to mental and medical care to the location of the nearest food pantry.

Nearby bus stops were a consideration in the choice of property, Gisler said, as they looked at six different spots. The lot currently has two homes of two bedrooms each. Those will stay, and Salvation Army plans to build a house with 10 bedrooms, maybe five bathrooms, and one large kitchen, he described.

Gisler did not respond to questions about ownership of the land, but the ABR notice lists Three J Investment Alisos LLC, whose CEO is Joseph Halsell, a Santa Maria builder. Halsell is apparently part of a “Funders Collaborative” that is a wing of the “Home for Good” effort of the Northern Santa Barbara County United Way. That group is has taken over Santa Barbara County coordination on activities like the biannual Point-in-Time homeless count.

Robin Unander lives about a block away from 15 South Alisos Street, and she first heard about the development from a neighbor. “The lot is zoned R-2,” she said, “and they want to build a 2,700 square-foot-plus building there. That’s huge!” The plans added only three onsite parking spots in a neighborhood already suffering a parking squeeze. The condos next door have onsite parking for every owner or tenant, she said. “Where will the staff or visitors park?” she asked.

Whether the residents would be a revolving door mattered, Unander added. “If they’re people who stay and we as neighbors get to know them, that’s one thing.” People housed temporarily was another matter, she said: “That’s why we don’t allow short-term rentals in neighborhoods. We don’t want that kind of traffic in neighborhoods.”

Unander is a lawyer who works at UCSB for Associated Students. She’d researched similar projects, finding an agreement the Salvation Army had reached on a much bigger project in a Dallas industrial area. “The property owners were very concerned, even though it was industrial,” she said. “The City Council approved it after they reached an agreement no sex offenders would live there.” In Sacramento, the mayor had asked the councilmembers to make homeless housing proposals within each district. “The question is,” Unander said, “how do we protect residents? How do we protect the community?”


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