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Homeless programs redirecting those in need to permanent housing in Santa Barbara County

The recent Isla Vista temporary housing project has resulted in 27 people transitioning to permanent housing.
John Palminteri/KEYT
The recent Isla Vista temporary housing project has resulted in 27 people transitioning to permanent housing.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Once living in tents or cars, some of those who were homeless in Santa Barbara County will now have a more secure living area. Efforts are underway to create more transitional solutions.

Solving the homeless issues in Santa Barbara County on various levels has been taking a coordinated effort.

In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors, the update on current encampments showed many agencies are part of the response, and some are providing more direct and innovative answers than what's been used in recent years.

The county is developing a plan before it goes into a camp and offers those living there an option other than facing law enforcement action for violations ranging from criminal behavior to environmental damages.

The county is looking at several categories when evaluating a camp including, health and safety impacts, available resources and the availability of alternative housing.

Earlier this year, for example, the City of Santa Barbara took emergency action because of risks in high fire areas. 50 hotel rooms were funded to relocate people living in these dangerous zones and then a clean-up team cleared out the sites.

Those in the hotel rooms have been provided daily checks, wellness assistance, and support services going forward.

The county's three-year program under consideration would run about $1.9 million dollars over three years. It includes an encampment response coordinator, debris removal and storage of personal property.

The county is hoping to locate 100 more beds for bridge housing.

State funding is available for the first year of service for several sites, but further funding is in doubt. A plan to offer housing vouchers is being considered.

The county staff says it expects 60 percent of those contacted at homeless camps can be helped into a rehousing alternative.

Supervisor Gregg Hart described the county's latest effort as taking, "bold action to change lives." He acknowledged "these things are expensive." Hart encouraged the county to take the message to other local governments to take action together.

He said when it comes to the outreach it takes unique individuals to make a connection to those in need who are living on the streets and bring them into the programs being developed. "It is as simple as that and it is as hard as that," said Hart.

As for temporary housing sites, Supervisor Das Williams said the county has the funding for additional parking lot programs for the unsheltered living overnight in their cars. He said to landowners with available parking, "take our money."

In Isla Vista, small temporary housing was brought in and used by 41 people who had been living in the parks. 27 were able to move into more permanent housing.

In Santa Maria, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said if one homeless site pops up and if nothing is done, a second, third and fourth will still appear. Then, "It's like living in L.A. or the Bay area," he said. "For me, it is all about the temporary housing."

The county says leaving the encampments causes concern for the health and safety of the persons experiencing homelessness. There is also the risk of fires, environmental impacts, more calls for service from police, fire, AMR, and Sheriff deputies and oftentimes, the removal of biohazards.

"We need to start immediately in buying real estate and building shelters," said Heal the Ocean Executive Director Hillary Hauser. "We know where the camps are. We know what's active and what's abandoned." She stressed the urgency, "if we don't get a handle on this."

Hauser said some of the actions the county has proposed, Heal the Ocean and other agencies are already doing. She credited Sheriff's Deputy Ben Sandu in Goleta for his personal outreach to the homeless.

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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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