Despite the outcry of a community group earlier this summer, Santa Barbara city officials stated Tuesday that a local homeless shelter had not violated its permit and is following the rules, encouraging the organization to continue in the future.
In July, members of the Milpas Community Association distributed a hefty complaint to reporters, city officials and planners, stating that the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center at 816 Cacique St. in Santa Barbara and its staff hadn’t been patrolling the neighborhood or done the appropriate outreach, both of which are required under the group’s permit.
The city has since been investigating the complaint, and Community Development Director Paul Casey sent a letter to Casa Esperanza’s Mike Foley on Tuesday.
City staff found that Casa Esperanza is operating in compliance with all of the conditions of approval required, but Casey quickly added that the finding is based on the shelter’s operations over the past two months.
Reports from residents in the area and police state there’s been a “discernable improvement” during that time, and to keep their permits, Casa will have to maintain that level of service, proving it isn’t just “a temporary or short-term improvement in response to a complaint or an upcoming Planning Commission review.”
One of the MCA’s concerns centered on neighborhood outreach, and the group issued an indictment of the Milpas Action Task Force, which is responsible for oversight of the shelter’s compliance.
In Tuesday’s letter, Casey said that while the MATF was meeting regularly, it wasn’t achieving the goals expected of the task force, and the city would work to find a facilitator to get the group back on track.
Among other changes meant to strengthen outreach, the city will now require the shelter to contact and document at least three businesses or residences each week, and recommended it establish a dedicated telephone line for complaints.
The city took issue with the MCA’s claim that Casa’s jail-discharge program would expand services at the shelter, violating the permit. There aren’t any beds at the shelter dedicated to people in the program, Casey stated, adding that there’s been no increase in clients arriving from the jail because of the program.
Foley told Noozhawk on Tuesday that the shelter is grateful to the city for its work, and what he called a “fair conclusion.” He said he agreed that the process with the task force has been a difficult one, but that just before MCA issued its complaint, a mediator was suggested, and Casa Esperanza officials endorsed the idea.
Last Thursday, both Casa Esperanza and MCA agreed that former Planning Commissioner John Jostes would serve as the facilitator, Foley said, adding that the shelter is “committed to the neighborhood and looks forward to participating creatively in this process.”
The Milpas Community Association also issued a statement on Tuesday, saying it filed the complaint to fix conditions in the Milpas area, not target homeless people.
“Nothing in the complaint ever requested limiting of services to the homeless, but asked for compliance with the existing permit conditions so that services could be provided without significant disruption or ill effects to the area,” the statement read.
The group said it is optimistic that the additional guidelines from the city will help the area and not just be a temporary fix.
Though the group disagreed that the jail-release program is out of scope, it approved the improvements to outreach and patrol in the area.
“We appreciate Casa Esperanza’s recent efforts to achieve compliance, the city’s response confirming this result, and look forward to a continued improvement in the Milpas corridor,” the statement said.