Santa Barbara’s onetime youth hostel at 134 Chapala Street abutting Mission Creek has reportedly been purchased by the County of Santa Barbara and will be transformed into transitional bridge housing for people living on the streets. The deal was acted upon by the county supervisors this past Wednesday in closed session. The sale and rehabilitation of the building will cost $4.7 million with most of it coming state and federal funds earmarked for homeless housing. Title to the building will be transferred to the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, which enjoys an exemplary reputation in managing similar projects. Likewise for operators of the Good Samaritan homeless shelters in Santa Maria, which is a candidate to be tagged with day-to-day management. Supervisor Gregg Hart confirmed the deal, explaining that for the past year the county has been looking for suitable hotel-motel properties to buy to create long-term transitional housing to get people off the streets.
Hart said he’s confident the involvement of the Housing Authority should address neighborhood concerns. Santa Barbara City Councilmember Michael Jordan — whose district includes the property in question — expressed emphatic support for the deal. The need for such housing he said, could not be more pressing, and the availability of a transitional housing project — about 25 rooms — could go a very long way to easing the impacts of the homeless on the West Beach neighborhood. Jordan said the project is at least six months from opening and repeatedly stressed that it will not be a homeless shelter. “It’s exactly what everyone always says we need only somewhere else,” Jordan stated.
Like Hart, Jordan expressed confidence in the Housing Authority as a conscientious and competent partner. “They have five projects just like this, but nobody ever hears anything about them because they do such a good job managing them,” he stated.
The city is currently spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on aggressive, accelerated outreach efforts to get people on the streets into long-term transitional housing, Jordan said, but there’s no place to put them. “When people say they’re ready to make a change, we have to be ready to get them inside some place,” Jordan added. “Not in a month or two, but right now. Or maybe a few days. We don’t have that. This will help greatly.”
Jordan, who started his career as a representative of the hospitality industry on a creeks advisory committee that oversaw the expenditure of bed tax funds earmarked for creek restoration, said he fully expects there to be concern from waterfront hotel and motel owners around West Beach. He expressed concerns of his own that the project will be subject to a lot of “misinformation” put out by fearmongers. “Let me say it again: it’s not a shelter,” he said. “It’s going to be managed housing where we will smother people with the sort of services and counseling they need to get their lives back together.” In addition, he vowed to bird-dog the project to make sure every precaution was taken to address neighborhood concerns.
Jordan, who has emerged as one of the more outspokenly impatient councilmembers when it comes to expanding homeless housing options, said this acquisition coupled with the $480,000 the council committed to this past Tuesday to secure 15 motel rooms over the next six months should help make a real dent in a problem that has achieved renewed public awareness and concern.