A homeless death was reported in Isla Vista on Monday, bringing the year’s total to six, and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is expected to address the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
Homeless advocates most likely will be watching the meeting with interest as the board tackles two items that will directly affect those living on the streets.
A Homeless Death Review Team was established in 2008 to review the deaths. It met once that year and was recently reactivated to explore last year’s number of homeless deaths — which totaled nearly 30 people. Five have died so far this year.
On Tuesday, the supervisors are expected to direct the Homeless Death Review Team to research the deaths and report back in three to five months. The team would collaborate with law enforcement, homeless services providers and interested county commissioners and community members.
According to county reports, homelessness increased 17 percent from 2007 to 2009, and giving those homeless shelter during inclement weather also has been a growing concern, especially during the past several weeks as storms moved through the South Coast.
The board also will look at a draft of hazardous-weather protocols for the homeless on the South Coast.
The draft includes three scenarios that would kick in once hazardous weather begins. The first calls for Casa Esperanza, the Rescue Mission, Transition House and Noah’s Anchorage offering all of their existing beds.
Once those are filled, the Rescue Mission could use overflow cots, Casa Esperanza could open to full capacity and the Salvation Army could open an overflow shelter. Once all of the local shelters have reached capacity, local jurisdictions would begin to organize area warming centers.
The issue becomes more complicated, however, when the homeless choose not to go to the shelters, sometimes because of mental illness or addiction.
Noozhawk checked in with Nancy Edmundson, director of administration at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, which has been hosting a warming center for the homeless.
The shelter was open from Monday to Friday night last week, and is gearing up to open later this week when rain is expected.
Edmundson said the church was able to shelter 25 people, the maximum that can be held between two classrooms. Dozens of others huddled under the church’s eaves and even constructed makeshift tents out of trash bags to keep dry.
Although there aren’t any beds for those seeking shelter, “at least the people are safe and out of the elements,” Edmundson said.
“It’s still a very tragic, crisis situation,” she said.
Sheltering that many people hasn’t been without its own impacts on the facility. Sewer lines were backed up one night last week, and a preschool that occupies the building during the day had to close while the lines were repaired.
“We’re all living in a crowded little house down here,” she said.
Other than that, Edmundson said there have been no problems with those seeking shelter and that they were very appreciative.
She said the church is prepared to continue offering the warming centers throughout the winter, adding that she hopes the county will step in to help.
Donations of blankets and socks are still needed to hand out to the homeless who filter through the warming center.
Also on the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting is a discussion of how to proceed in appointing an interim district attorney.
On Jan. 25, District Attorney Christie Stanley announced she would retire in two weeks because of health reasons. Stanley, elected in 2006, is battling lung cancer.
Since a new district attorney won’t be elected until June, the county supervisors will appoint a replacement. On Tuesday, they will discuss the process for handling that task.
The board will meet at 9 a.m. in the Board Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.