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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 12:43 pm | Fair 65º


Santa Barbara’s ‘Real Change’ Campaign for Homeless Coming Up Far Short

Officials cite a 'disappointing' lack of participation by local businesses; Casa Esperanza needs $40,000 by April 1 or its outreach program is likely to close

The “Real Change, Not Spare Change” alternative giving program launched in Santa Barbara with fanfare and optimism last April. The educational campaign encourages people to donate to street outreach programs instead of handing money directly to panhandlers, and the program created countertop donation boxes for local businesses to display.

But there’s been a “disappointing” lack of participation by local businesses, according to Mike Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center and Community Kitchen.

“If the entire city doesn’t embrace the idea, it won’t change — more money will go into police and the county jail, and we’ll still get a lot of panhandling,” Foley said.

Since April 2010, the campaign has raised less than $4,000 in donations, with most of that coming from two “Real Change Days” when businesses donated a percentage of sales or a flat amount. The campaign’s Web site lists just 16 participating organizations and businesses, many of which aren’t places frequented by the general public.

The City of Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency funded the program with a $75,000 grant last spring, and the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization and SurfMedia Communications have spent about $50,000 on informational advertisements since then, according to Mary Lynn Harms, the Downtown Organization’s marketing director.

The Downtown Organization manages SurfMedia’s marketing contract, and the city reviews the DO’s actions through meetings with RDA Director Brian Bosse. Most of the funds were spent on local signage and public service announcements, and Bosse said the campaign is now pursuing materials in hotels to educate tourists.

“As long as cash is available on the street, there will be people to ask for it,” Foley said.

Funds from the program are spent on local street outreach programs, but he said the largest one is “about to close.”

Foley told Noozhawk on Monday that Casa Esperanza’s outreach program needs $40,000 by April 1 or the program will dissolve. The two paid staff members work six days a week, and the program costs $70,000 for the both of them.

The marketing campaign is considered phase one, but it’s unclear whether there will be a next step. The $75,000 will be spent by the end of the fiscal year, and the City Council may or may not allocate more to the project, so Bosse said a phase two hasn’t been developed.

“We’re kind of breaking new ground there, so with each step we have to analyze it,” he said.

One idea thrown about has been exterior, parking meter-like boxes on the street for donations, but Bosse said there are potential problems of vandalism or theft.

The City Council hasn’t formally discussed continuing the program, but Mayor Helene Schneider said “it’s obvious that it’s needed,” in combination with restorative policing in the downtown area.

She said no community organization has taken a leadership role, and voluntary participation is extremely low, so it’s unclear who makes the next move — but that the conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later.

“Honestly, if we don’t have the enthusiasm from businesses or the Downtown Organization, it won’t work,” Schneider said. “It needs to be a true partnership. It’s not something the city can or should do on its own.”

With participation from businesses essential, she said it makes sense to have merchants and business organizations involved in leadership.

“At the end of the day, what you need are willing participants up and down State Street to get the message out,” Schneider said. “No PSA is as effective.”

To Get Involved

» For posters, countertop donation boxes or other signage for your business, contact the Downtown Organization at 805.962.2098 x25 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

» Making a $5 donation by texting “CHANGESB” to 85944.

» Donate money directly to Casa Esperanza at 816 Cacique St. or 805.884.8481.

» Participating organizations and businesses with countertop boxes are the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, Tri-County Produce, Indigo Interiors, Double Dolphin, the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Casa Magazine, the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization, Trinity Episcopal Church, Paradise Found, Santa Cruz Market, Pascucci, Los Arroyos, Home Improvement Center, Santa Barbara Pistachio Company, Golden Eagle Tattoo and the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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