SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - An area known for large homeless camps, fires and drug use has been visited by top Santa Barbara and Montecito leaders to see first hand, what problems they have been dealing with for years.
They have also laid out a plan for solutions.
The walking tour was organized by Sharon Byrne the Executive Director of the Montecito Association.
It included Santa Barbara city and county representatives, fire chiefs, and Santa Barbara Sheriff's deputies.
The site chosen was on the line where Santa Barbara meets Montecito off Los Patos Way across from the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.
They walked past an abandoned shopping cart from a store three miles away, assorted trash, clothing and there was a smell of waste.
Byrne said, "We know we have folks moving back and forth but everybody's jurisdiction line stops at their jurisdictional line right?"
The group is working to collaborate on clean up operations, while solving the relocation of the homeless from the freeway and railroad corridor where encampments have been a longtime health, safety and fire concern.
"When we do 'move them along strategy'. the city of Santa Barbara set people adrift and then they migrate to another jurisdiction and somebody else has to pick them up and deal with them," said Byrne.
Recently near the site of this tour, a vegetation fire broke out in the area of a camp loaded with belongings including numerous bikes.
The non-profit Heal the Ocean has been involved with mapping the camps using drone images and has made that effort available to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. It is also paying for a start up company to clear the sites using workers, some who were formerly homeless, to bag the trash and remove it from the problem areas.
A concern about jurisdictional lines is also blurring the response efforts because the homeless have crossed back and forth, causing issues for those reaching out to them for relocation and other services.
Supervisor Das Williams said more is being done today to address the problem than what he saw years ago, but housing solutions lag behind. "We need more temporary housing spots that's number one, it is some place to get people."
He's encouraged saying, "now there's a lot more political will and a lot more willingness to use our funds, state funds to solve the homeless problem."
Byrne agrees, saying "what we want to see is more support for housing and more support for temporary shelter for people to get them ready for housing and a lot of that can be done with successful public private partnerships. "
Along the way, Byrne said she has not had success with Union Pacific to be part of this effort and the train track route is often used by the homeless to move about and set up camps.
Caltrans is helping by providing large trash bags for the clean up crews, and removing what is set aside near the freeway. The agency is also doing its own clean up projects on a regular basis, mainly on on and off ramps, and known camps where fires have taken place.
Since 2020 the Montecito Association has been working with various groups on the Hands Across Montecito outreach effort. Several agencies are involved including the Department of Behavioral Wellness and City Net in addition to the ongoing local services.
Two Santa Barbara City Councilmembers were on the tour. Oscar Gutierrez who represents the Westside where homeless issues are significant, and Kristin Sneddon who is the councilmember for the district where the tour site is located. She said, "some of them lessons learned from things that worked well, what didn't work well, but we are all in it trying to think creatively and are on board and trying to work together."
The city is getting new directions on homeless solutions with Mayor Randy Rowse who wants more collaboration with the county in several areas, and he also does not want the parks to be places for food and wellness services for the unhoused.
Rowse favors other areas of the city for those services.
While no specific numbers have been posted recently annually the area is spending millions of dollars on homeless issues, and recently $3-million went towards a State Street hotel project to relocate homeless people who were in high fire areas.
Nearby in the City of Goleta a Super 8 motel was recently purchased specifically to be remodeled into homeless housing. The project was funding by Goleta and the County along with other sources.
Williams believes if a similar situation came up in Santa Barbara, that plan might also be supported by the county.