Even with the enforcement of new sober-only rules, the number of people checking into the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center at the start of this year’s expanded winter season is slightly up from last year. On the first day of the new season, shelter operators reported 159 residents checking in; this time last year the number was 153.
While the bump is hardly dramatic, it defies widespread expectations that the new sobriety rules would chase away many people in need. Casa director Mike Foley reported that of 69 individuals seeking to secure space Sunday morning, only four tested positive for alcohol when given a breathalyzer test. “Everyone else blew zeros,” he noted. Foley added that residents will be subjected to random drug testing, as well.
Foley described the start of this year’s winter season — in which the maximum number of shelter residents expands to 200 — as decidedly “less chaotic” than in years past. In addition to the new sobriety rules, he credited new management changes in which residents are screened, oriented, and allowed to claim their space upstairs sooner than before. In addition, he said, residents have been given more responsibility in the assignment of chores and ensuring that they get done.
The shelter adopted the new sobriety requirements in response to concerns from major donors that the presence of inebriated residents made it harder for others to get sober and off the streets. That change proved controversial among many homeless care providers who expressed fear that the number of homeless deaths and emergency-room visits could increase as a result.
Meanwhile, Foley announced that the shelter surpassed its $300,000 goal during a recent emergency fundraising drive, generating $420,000. Of that, Texas billionaire and Montecito resident Harold Simmons — a well-known conservative activist — donated $100,000 and Sara Miller McCune — a liberal-leaning publisher — offered a matching grant of $50,000.