California's senior homeless advisor Hafsa Kaka visited several homeless projects on August 2, including Buena Tierra in Goleta, speaking here with Anant Yardi, founder of Yardi Systems, about his experience staying at the former Super 8 in 1970. | Courtesy County of Santa Barbara

Governor Gavin Newsom’s senior homelessness advisor, Hafsa Kaka, was in town on Wednesday, touring the housing and support centers operating in Isla Vista, Goleta, and Santa Barbara, as well as the site of the soon-to-be-built La Posada in Noleta. Santa Barbara County received two large state grants to resolve homeless encampments, one this year for $6 million toward riverbeds and creeks and another in 2022 to put $2.5 million toward rail and highway areas. The state’s new homeless advisor was here to learn about the innovative initiatives being undertaken to rehouse some of those displaced, said Kimberlee Albers, who manages Santa Barbara County’s Homelessness Assistance Program.

Kaka (pronounced Kay-ka) stopped at the Hedges House of Hope in Isla Vista, as well as at DignityMoves’ tiny-home village in downtown Santa Barbara and Goleta’s Buena Tierra, which is under construction and transforming the former Super 8 motel near Fairview and Hollister. DignityMoves has quietly existed at 1016 Santa Barbara Street for about a year, and Kaka admired the tomatoes growing and the flowers blooming there in containers. At Hedges House, the visit took place while a kitchen remodel was going on, but Kaka was able to speak with several residents comfortably, Albers said. Operated by Good Samaritan, Hedges House is an emergency shelter named for Father Jon-Stephen Hedges, long a propellant toward progress in meeting the needs of homeless individuals in Isla Vista before his death in 2021.

Hafsa Kaka high-fives a resident at DignityMoves who said he has found permanent housing. | Courtesy County of Santa Barbara

Appropriately enough, at Father Jon’s last posting — Goleta’s St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, which had moved from Isla Vista in 2014 — the Showers of Blessing trailer sets up on Thursday mornings. There, and also at the other four spots the shower trailers visit weekly, guests receive toiletries, clean clothes as needed, and a hot shower. They can also enroll in the county’s Coordinated Entry System, which is the first step toward obtaining a berth at one of the permanent supportive homes soon to come online.

Buena Tierra should open in the fall, said Albers, and La Posada is shooting for completion in spring 2024. At locations like Showers of Blessing, the Coordinated Entry System helps ensure that people have the documents needed to apply for public housing, Albers explained. The county follows the Housing and Urban Development guidelines, necessary to receive the federal grants that underlie many of the programs, which give priority to persons with higher needs, such as age, disability, chronic homelessness, or a young person without a parent.

Although Buena Tierra is expected to be ready by October, already about 100 possible residents are listed for the 59 units. Because of the location, the priorities include that the individual have a history of living in Goleta, Isla Vista, or the Eastern Goleta Valley. Eight of the rooms will be reserved for homeless patients coming from Cottage Hospital’s Recuperative Care Program, 15 are for young people between the ages of 18 and 24, and 36 rooms are for people with a permanent disability who’ve been homeless for longer than a year, Albers said.

The Housing Authority for Santa Barbara County purchased the motel last year and has been making repairs and installing kitchenettes ever since, said John Polanskey, who is heading the effort. Already, fresh aqua doors dot the three-story building.

On Hollister Avenue, where St. Athanasius is flanked by an orchard full of orange trees, business can be brisk as a few dozen people come for a shower during the three hours they’re available. A handful asked about the Coordinated Entry System, but most of the guests just want to get cleaned up.

“A shower is a powerful thing,” Father Jon had said after working in New Orleans in disaster relief post–Hurricane Katrina. They were unable to shower for a week. “Water and a little soap. What a thing to share with a brother or sister who doesn’t have it,” he said in a video for Showers of Blessing. “It conveys a grace all human beings should have access to as they wish.”

Showers of Blessing employees and volunteers | Courtesy


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