A homeless man in Santa Barbara.
A homeless man pushes his shopping cart full of belongings near the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s Van Gogh exhibit on State Street. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

One in four homeless people in Santa Barbara County lives in Santa Barbara, and about 882 people in the city experienced homelessness, according to preliminary data from the 2022 Point-in-Time Count. In 2021, the city received 584 reports related to homeless encampments.

That is just some of the data contained in a city staff report ahead of Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting, when the council is expected to discuss all of its efforts to help homeless individuals, as well as the plan going forward.

“The City of Santa Barbara has done and is involved in some significant efforts to address homelessness,” Mayor Randy Rowse told Noozhawk. “Our Police Department has added specialized personnel and training, as well as other city departments involved in intervention and navigation. Monitoring and removing illegal encampment sites is vital for public safety, and keeping our parks clean and inviting for all people is a priority.”

The city’s partner organizations such as City Net and SB ACT also will share their progress during the past year.

The report also reveals that after the city’s much talked about encampment-to-motel plan, 27 people were returned to the streets after living in the Rose Garden Inn for nearly seven months.

The Rose Garden Inn project ran from July 5, 2021, to Jan. 31, 2022. During that time, 63 people stayed at the motel on upper State Street — 43 men and 20 women. Of those,12 people were placed into permanent housing or other “safe locations,” according to the staff report. Another 13 people were connected to mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. About 33 became “document ready,” meaning they were able to obtain key documents such as birth certicates and other records to be eligible for disability or other social services. 

The goal of the program was to remove people from the wildfire areas. Homeless individuals sometimes start campfires to stay warm at night, and the city was trying to reduce the chance of fire breaking out.

“At project’s end, 27 persons returned to the streets,” the report states. “This was partially due to COVID outbreaks, which caused closures at local shelters, leaving these individuals with no other options. A few elected not to go to any other shelter situation. City Net continues to case manage the former motel residents.”

In addition, the city granted about $1.8 million to nonprofit homeless service providers for prevention, coordination, shelter, supportive services and rental subsidies during fiscal year 2021.

In early 2021, the city also provided $480,000 in Socio-Economic Mitigation Funds to City Net for a bridge housing program at local motels. The program allowed individuals who were better suited for non-congregate shelter, as opposed to congregate shelter with shared sleeping quarters, to be provided with ongoing shelter and case management support, the staff report stated.

Thirty people were provided with bridge housing.

“Like many cities across California, Santa Barbara remains challenged to respond adequately to homelessness in our community,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said. “A devastating humanitarian crisis, and one that often leads to significant neighborhood impacts, homelessness is a complex problem that requires an equally layered, multi-jurisdictional response.”

Councilman Mike Jordan spoke with Noozhawk and said the question that the council will try to answer is, “How do you measure success?”

“There’s obviously a perspective out there that whatever we are doing is not enough,” Jordan said. “Is it the number of people we touch with our services? Is it the number of people we take off the streets?”

Jordan said regional collaboration is needed and that the county should be in a position to work with the city to take over services.

The county provides social services and is able to apply for state and federal grant money in ways that the City of Santa Barbara is not eligible.

Jordan has mixed feelings on the Rose Garden Inn project. He noted that there weren’t any wildfires during that period, but such an expensive model for housing people temporarily is not a long-term solution.

“That is unsustainable,” he said.

Harmon said the Rose Garden Inn project showed the city’s ability to work creatively. 

“The Rose Garden Inn project, while not an unequivocal success and certainly not a programmatic panacea, is proof of our local government’s commitment to acting in more nimble, responsive and innovative ways,” Harmon said. “There is much work to be done —and much room for improvement — in Santa Barbara’s response to homelessness, but I believe our shared commitment to solving this urgent crisis is clear, and that our collective commitment is the necessary first step if we are to truly end homelessness in our city.”

Mayor Rowse also noted that the Dignity Moves project that will house 33 people, with a focus on those who are homeless downtown. Still, he said, more needs to be done.

“As we move forward, we have to look beyond simply providing shelter,” Rowse said. “The psychological and health needs of clients must be prioritized if we are to have measurable and sustainable improvement. Substance abuse leading to addiction needs to be recognized and prioritized as a disease, and not a social issue. Prevention needs to be addressed in a meaningful way if we are to stem the tide of our youth ending up as part of this issue.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.