Tuesday, May 24 , 2016, 5:00 am | Mostly Cloudy 54º

County Supervisors Hear Plan to Consolidate Services for Homeless

The proposal calls for nonprofit groups to join forces under a single leader to help get people off the streets

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Streamlining efforts to reach out to Santa Barbara County’s homeless population was a topic brought before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, and if public comment was any indication, the county’s biggest efforts could be combining forces in the future.

Bringing Our Community Home, Common Ground Santa Barbara and the county’s Homeless Advisory Committees would consolidate, according to a plan brought forward by Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr

She commended the efforts of those involved in working to end homelessness, while saying that efforts could be consolidated.

“While there was a lot of energy ... we could do a better job of coordinating resources,” she said.

At the same time, homeless-related issues have continued to come before the board. Increasing homelessness because of AB109, grand jury reports that have implored the supervisors to take action and warming centers that have needed funding have all been issues directly related to people living on the streets in Santa Barbara County.

Farr said the groups have come up with a new model that will help volunteers get involved in an easier way.

“This is going to create a system where everyone who wants to be involved will have a place to start,” she said. 

At the heart of the changes would be someone who is paid to serve the role of “air traffic controller,” Farr said, directing the various efforts and serving as the point person. That position would be funded by all of the agencies involved, and would be supervised by an executive committee.

The county recently published a report that stated it could save 25 percent by housing and treating people instead of relying on the jail system. Some advocates said the county’s estimates were on the low side, and that even more savings could be achieved by housing.

“We can start to save a lot of money,” Farr said.

Because existing boards and committees would have to be dissolved to form the new organization, Farr said, the county would have to do further analysis and report back.

Of the dozen or so speakers, all supported the consolidation.

Common Ground’s Rob Fredericks said that what volunteers discovered while surveying the homeless last year was “saddening, but not a surprise.” 

Of those surveyed, 932 or 82 percent were deemed vulnerable, or at a high risk of death if they continued to stay on the streets.

The three groups worked to develop the structure that went before supervisors Tuesday.

Sylvia Bernard, co-executive director of Bringing Our Community Home, also declared her support. If such an infrastructure had been in place, the Lompoc shelter crisis that occurred earlier this year wouldn’t have been as dramatic, she said.

Representatives from the Homeless Advisory Committee also echoed their support.

Rolf Geyling, a member of the South Coast Advisory Committee and executive director of the Rescue Mission, also encouraged the supervisors to move forward.

“No agency can confront this problem alone,” he said, adding that it takes the collaboration of as many as eight agencies to move people off the streets successfully.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said there’s been no central agency coordinating efforts in the past, and “this is something that’s been long overdue.”

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said she still had questions about the specifics of the plan, including how the central staff person would be paid. She was apprehensive about the possibility of spending more money in a time of multi-million-dollar deficits facing the county.

“We would ultimately be saving money and resources,” Farr said, giving the warming centers as an example of a county partnership that gave funding to non-profits to coordinate the outreach.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that the county cannot afford to to pass on what’s being done.

“For me, this report yells, ‘Savings, savings, savings,’” he said. “I see this as an effort to help streamline.”

The supervisors ultimately voted to have the CEO come back to them with more details about the program,including cost and goals, and will later vote on the plan.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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