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Recent homeless deaths raise concerns as warming centers now set to open in Santa Barbara County

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Year-round help for the homeless in Santa Barbara County goes to a new level in November when the seasonal warming centers open.

The change takes place on November 15.

The Good Samaritan Shelter will be the operator of the Freedom Warming centers at locations countywide. Specific climate conditions will be the triggers for the warming centers to open.

There will continue to be daily outreach efforts to contact the homeless and offer help, warm clothing and transportation to the sobering center off Calle Real if necessary.

Since Thursday, there have been four deaths in Santa Barbara involving those believed to be living outside on a regular basis. Two were on the beach, one was in the Milpas underpass area, and one was in Storke Placita downtown.

In all cases, there were no obvious signs of death reported by investigating officers.

The Sheriff-Coroner will make the final determination.

In the months ahead, DignityMoves will install small housing in a parking lot between Garden and Santa Barbara streets for the homeless in transition to permanent housing. Good Samaritan will collaborate on the project with services.

The cost is expected to be over $2-million over three years for construction and operating expenses.

Good Samaritan Shelter Executive Director Sylvia Barnard said not everyone on the street is ready for help. "We are here to really help where they are at , meet them where they are at.  There are always those individuals  that aren't ready or may not  want to come in to that kind of (shelter) environment  but the one thing that they know is we are always here for them. "

Building trust is a key to the contacts made by outreach workers. If a situation changes, the person on the streets might reconsider the help that has been offered.
"Maybe they had a medical crisis, maybe they fall into our sobering center and then we  we can reach out to them and connect them to services in that way," said Barnard.

She says the criteria for the warming centers will be an advanced forecast of, "35 degrees or less or 50 percent or higher of rain." They use AccuWeather for the forecast.

There will be a change this year in one area. "In the North county sometimes for Lompoc and Santa Maria, Lompoc will be 34 degrees and Santa Maria will be 36 degrees, so  if either of those two communities are triggered we are going to activate both communities."

One person living on the streets and spending his days in Alameda Park is Michael Brooks. He looks forward to the chance at a small transitional house for "probably six months to get your head straightened out,  get on a daily routine." He says, "I'm been drug free for a long, long time, yea  I'm ready."

Nearby Bobby Majid who works out in a local gym where he also cleans up daily says, "I'ld like to get a place where I can take a shower,  fix my own breakfast  by me being a Muslim, my diet is strict."

Good Samaritan says federal and state funding has been increasing since the COVID crisis and more long range planning for bridge housing is underway.

Barnard says the latest efforts come with grants, coordination and a commitment from area agencies along with government backing, " and they really are committed a lot to homeless services." She says some of the plans are for three years to help with long range planning and to get an accurate assessment.

Later this month when the warming centers are open, she says there will be a sweeping notification countywide to make sure those who need the services and those who do outreach can find the locations.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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