As of Tuesday, 16 people had signed up to relocate from Santa Barbara’s fire-prone homeless encampments to the Rose Garden Inn. At full occupancy, the motel will be able to accommodate 50. | Credit: Courtesy

Just days after the Santa Barbara City Council approved a four-month master lease for the Rose Garden Inn on upper State Street, City Net outreach workers started beating the bushes in hopes of recruiting new guests for the motel from downtown’s many homeless encampments.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 16 had been signed up by the likes of health worker Keela Potter and John Gabert, a drug-and-alcohol counselor — both City Net outreach workers. They’ve been showing up at campsites around town in their blue van, picking up people, their bikes, and whatever else they want to carry out as part of a $1.6 million effort by City Hall to move people out of their urban encampments and into the great indoors.

City Net outreach workers Keela Potter and John Gabert have been beating the bushes in hopes of recruiting new guests from downtown’s many homeless encampments, including the one by the Castillo Street on-ramp. | Credit: Nick Welsh

Inspiring this unprecedented effort is a fear that fire may break out in such encampments. In the month of May, 18, in fact, did.

One of the residents at the campsite by the Castillo Street on-ramp has three guitars, and Gabert, an accomplished player in his own right, trades a few licks with the soon-to-be transplanted man before packing him and his guitars to the Rose Garden.

Potter has been working for City Net about a year now, and before that she worked with PATH at the homeless shelter. Both she and Gabert are energized by the sudden availability of new rooms. In addition to the motel, the county is awash in 215 new housing vouchers for people deemed in the trade as “document ready.” Of those, close to 90 will be earmarked for the City of Santa Barbara.

“This is a big deal,” exclaimed Emily Koval, City Net spokesperson. “This is huge. It’s a once in-a-lifetime opportunity for us and our clients. It’s a boots-on-the-ground moment for all of our case managers.”

City Net, she said, is looking to hire eight new staff. Currently, the faith-based outreach organization has 18 working from Santa Maria to Carpinteria.

In addition to food and housing, those moving into the Rose Garden Inn will be provided a range of services — mental-health and substance-abuse counseling, to name just a couple — to aid their transition to more permanent housing.

Chris Nevarez, who’s lived at the campsite near the Castillo on-ramp for three months, was persuaded to relocate to the Rose Garden Inn, thanks, in part, to Potter and Gabert’s pleasant persistence. | Credit: Nick Welsh

Not everyone wants to go right away. Chris Nevarez, who’s lived in Santa Barbara more than 35 years and at the campsite about three months, initially wanted to wait three days until the city cleanup crew showed up before packing up all his gear. Potter was pleasantly persistent. There was space now, she said. That might not still be the case in three days. She and Gabert could come back in a few hours, giving Nevarez time to pack. He was persuaded.

Until city cleanup crews shut down the campsite — one of the most visible in downtown Santa Barbara — Potter and Gabert noted that other homeless people would move in. This is one of the highway ramps designated a high-priority fire risk by City Hall. Four other ramps have been designated high-priority targets for cleanup as well and will be hit later this week.

The Rose Garden Inn will be able to accommodate 50 people at full capacity. City Net has been contracted with by City Hall to manage the premises.

In the meantime, the County of Santa Barbara is proceeding with efforts to get a new emergency residential shelter for homeless people at the site of a former UCSB sorority on El Colegio Road in Isla Vista. Managing this operation will be Good Samaritan, which operates shelters in Lompoc and Santa Maria.

Good Samaritan has also recently assumed management of the South Coast’s sobering center, recently relocated from a Haley Street hotel to the county government’s campus for mental-health services off Calle Real near the jail. This new hotel — which may be named after Father Jon Hedges, the Isla Vista homeless advocate and priest who died in February — is sized to handle a population of 50 individuals for whom the expected length of stay is 150 days.

The new hotel will help supplant the loss of 20 Pallet homes that provided temporary shelter in Isla Vista from last winter through the end of June. Those homes — the size of tool sheds — have since been moved to Good Samaritan’s shelter in Lompoc.

Escrow has yet to close on this motel deal, but doors will reportedly be open for residents later this month. Guests will be selected based on need and vulnerability, not on a walk-in basis. 

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