SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – With pressure mounting about dangerous homeless camps, Santa Barbara is set to take emergency action to find new safe locations for the unsheltered instead of the random spots along train tracks and freeways where they are now.
Many of those spots have been found to be dangerous, unsafe and, on occasion, the source of damaging fires on private and public property.
The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday will discuss locations that could work as 120-day temporary sites, complete with services, food and transitional housing help.
The cost is estimated to be about $1 million. No state or federal money has been found to assist in this effort.
It's unclear what will happen to those who do not want to use the new shelter site and choose to remain in the bushes and self made "tent cities" in several locations around the city.
Many of the sites have been at the center of a community discussion because of the growing number of tents, and personal belongings – including propane tanks, furniture, bicycles and pets – found at the camps.
The city fire department says it has had numerous calls for service in and around these camps. In the month of May alone there were vegetation fires that damaged property at a private business and several sites near the railroad tracks and populated areas.
The city of Santa Barbara recorded 18 of these fires last month, and more have been reported with the start of June.
Suggested sites for the temporary shelter services have been the commuter lot at Carrillo and Highway 101, the vacant Staples building on lower State Street, the empty Sears Building at La Cumbre and the parking lot at City Hall.
Resident and Funk Zone museum owner James O'Mahoney said, "City Hall that will be good. All the governing bodies are right there and when they are right in their lap they will say 'wait a second!" It will be a big wake up call.
Resident Linda Liker thinks the Sears site, both the building and the large parking lot is the right choice. "It's easy to get to on and off the freeway, it's very close to the county where the services are and it's got plenty of space."
She said those that can not fit into the shelter can use the parking lot if they are living in their cars.
"I know an 87 year old woman who sleeps in her car. At the Sears parking lot they could stay in their cars and not get hassled."
Santa Barbara has several approved lots for overnight vehicles used as housing, through the New Beginnings program.
The city is working with many existing groups to make the latest emergency pivot in homeless services possible.
It will take both a collaboration and funding at a time when the community is recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.