Santa Barbara County’s Homeless Population
Drops Slightly in 2023
City Hall Looking for Permanent
Downtown Day Center Location
by Nick Welsh | March 21, 2023
Santa Barbara County experienced a slight dip in the number of homeless people counted during this year’s Point-in-Time Count compared to last year’s, according to preliminary results released last week. This year’s federally mandated count took place the morning of January 25 and involved 400 volunteers fanning out throughout the county’s 89 census tracts in search of homeless people to enumerate. Those volunteers counted 75 fewer homeless people this year compared to 2022, a decline of 3.7 percent.
Perhaps more telling was the 12 percent drop in the number of people deemed “unsheltered” — either living on the streets or in cars. The City of Santa Barbara — home to about 60 percent of the county’s counted homeless population — saw the biggest drop of both, a decline of 95 in total numbers and a drop of 106 people living either on the streets or unsheltered.
For those in the trenches of homeless outreach and shelter, these numbers were occasion for a mix of relief and satisfaction. But they were also taken with a grain of salt. To the latter point, the numbers yielded offer only a snapshot. To the former point, the count reflects the intense focus, effort, and number of resources that have been dedicated in the past several years to try to bring people in from the cold.
In the past year, for example, the DignityMoves village of 33 tiny homes on the 1000 block of Santa Barbara Street opened its doors to some of the most vulnerable and chronically homeless people in downtown Santa Barbara. That effort — which provides people their own individual units coupled with a wide array of on-site services on an interim basis — has been deemed so successful that the County of Santa Barbara and DignityMoves are currently embarking on a campaign to build four additional tiny-home villages throughout the county for a total of 423 new units. And this week, Governor Gavin Newsom pledged $3.4 billion in additional homeless relief funding for tiny-home village projects like DignityMoves throughout the state.
But for all the successes, the need has proven overwhelming. For the many homeless people who have been sheltered or housed — 1,050 in the past year — even more people have entered the system for the first time looking for help.
“I’m pleased there’s been a visible decline,” said Barbara Andersen, the City of Santa Barbara’s de facto homeless czar, “but we also have an awful lot of new folks.”
Andersen, who worked with the nonprofit S.B. ACT prior to being hired by City Hall, stated the next 18-24 months would witness a significant expansion in the number of permanent and interim housing units coming online. The new apartment complex by Vera Cruz Park in downtown Santa Barbara will offer 28 units for people previously unhoused; the Super 8 motel in Goleta is currently being remodeled to provide permanent housing; and 100 new beds are slated to come online at the site of the former juvenile hall.
Neighborhood Navigation Centers
Against this backdrop, an apprehensive Jeff Shaffer — former S.B. ACT cofounder and longtime shelter advocate for homeless people — met this week with his former colleague Barbara Andersen to make sure the homeless outreach program that’s been operating on Thursday evenings at Alameda Park since 2005 was not being forced out.
This program — now known as a neighborhood navigation center — was started initially by Westmont College but has been run most recently by S.B. ACT. It provides not just free meals and clothing for those in need but also medical treatment, access to mental health care, and even treatment for the pets of those on the streets. It’s a place where connections are forged and trust established between those offering services and those who have been wary of receiving them. Many residents of the DignityMoves village, for example, have been Thursday regulars at Alameda Park.
The program, however successful, has engendered pushback behind closed doors from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Mayor Randy Rowse, among others, who have expressed concern about the impact to the park and the surrounding neighborhoods. When fences went up around the park — as part of a sod rehabilitation program — Shaffer and his colleague Kayla Petersen grew concerned. Andersen notified them that she was looking for a replacement site, but that the Thursday-evening operation at Alameda Park — as well as the other two downtown navigation centers — would remain operational where they are until that has happened.
Downtown Day Center
Andersen said she’s looked at 17 sites in the past seven months for what would be a standing day center offering both indoor and outdoor spaces where private one-on-one meetings could be held between providers and clients and shopping carts and bicycles stored without spilling over onto the streets.
Andersen said one currently looks promising. She declined to identify the location but said it was located close enough to Alameda Park and the Tuesday-afternoon navigation center at the Carrillo-Castillo Commuter Lot as well as the Wednesday-morning center at the Rescue Mission. This would accommodate people who currently avail themselves of these three centers while at the same time being off the beaten path enough to not intrude onto State Street.
If such a site is located and a deal hashed out with the owner, it would go to the City Council for approval.
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