Monday, July 23 , 2018, 11:29 am | Fair 77º


Local News

Santa Barbara City Council Makes Its Points on Homelessness

Drawing on community input, a committee proposal mixes increased assistance, stepped-up enforcement and a crackdown on aggressive panhandlers

Santa Barbara’s struggle to deal with its homeless population was at the forefront Tuesday as the City Council talked through a 12-point plan it believes will help address the issue. The plan, approved unanimously, is the result of work done by a council subcommittee of members Iya Falcone, Dale Francisco and Helen Schneider, who have been gathering community feedback from a series of nine meetings since June.

Points of the plan include:

» Adoption of a city ordinance more restrictive on solicitation.

» Continue and expand intergovernmental cooperation to curb negative behavior.

» Continue to utilize Police Department deployment strategies to best meet the immediate demands of the community.

» Implement principles of a recovery zone for the Milpas area.

» Encourage coordination and cooperation of street outreach teams and the police department to work with those on the Top 100 open-container offender list.

» Acknowledge the need for more shelter beds for vulnerable populations.

» Consider using Community Development Block Grant and Redevelopment Agency funds for capital improvements in the lower Milpas Street area to mitigate the impact of homelessness.

» Recognize the need for additional detox beds and work with relevant agencies to help them with securing locations and funding for beds for homeless individuals with substance abuse issues.

» Continue and expand the Restorative Policing Program to work with homeless persons with mental illness.

» Work with service providers to secure funding for relocation funds and emergency hotel vouchers and programs to help reconnect people with their families.

» Develop a panhandling and alternate giving campaign.

» Continue looking for opportunities to assist with affordable housing projects, especially permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals.

The comprehensive plan would change policies already in place.  For example, one aspect of the plan would identify 100 repeat offenders and charge them with misdemeanors instead of infractions, as is currently the case. Francisco said the idea would provide incentive to stop the cycle of offenses and that key locations — such as the 400, 500 and 600 blocks of State Street — would be targeted because of the number of repeat offenders there.

Curbing aggressive panhandling is also a goal.

“We’re not talking about someone sitting on a bench with a sign,” Francisco said. Bus stops, parking lots and within 25 feet of an ATM machine were several of the locations targeted to have soliciting reined in. Francisco noted the subcommittee had worked hard to preserve constitutional rights and he said people would still be allowed to “quietly solicit.”

Developing an alternate giving campaign for panhandlers was inspired by a Denver program that encourages residents to give money to a general fund to target homelessness instead of individual panhandlers.

The recovery zone around Milpas Street would require conditional-use permits, which would limit the type of alcohol and single-sale containers sold in the Milpas corridor area. Falcone said that these targeted approaches have worked well in cities like Los Angeles and Seattle.

John Buttny, project coordinator for the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, spoke during public comment, advocating the addition of a “drop-in center” where people could stay the night while getting on their feet.

“The people we’re dealing with, the chronically homeless, almost 50 percent are mentally ill,” he said. “They just need a place to go.”

Steve Cushman, president of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce,  said the council plan was comprehensive and well thought out.

“What truly touches me is that we’re probably all one catastrophic illness away from being homeless, and I think you’re treating people with as much dignity and concern as you can,” he said.

Michael Misheler, homeless for several years but who now lives at El Carrillo Apartments, came to the meeting with several homeless friends.

“I don’t think they want any poor here,” he said, adding that it’s not illegal to be homeless. “My dad used to say ‘In America, the only real crime is being poor.’ The longer I live, the more I see that that’s true,” he said.

Others had concerns that the plan didn’t go far enough. Businessman Mike Jordan, who participated in the subcommittee meetings, said more work had to be done with community members, adding that engaging the public will be critical to the plan’s success.

“I’ve also been continually dismayed at what I’ve heard today, the attitudes of entitlement,” Jordan said. “Those are very unmotivating and serve nothing to foster this effort with community members.”

Several members of the business community voiced concern about the effects of homelessness for visitors and business owners. Kathy Janega-Dykes, president of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, said she supported the plan and panhandling enforcement, without which people felt “unsafe.”

Council discussion pointed to the need for the 12-point plan.

“Every time someone hands over money, it creates a demand for panhandling,” Councilman Grant House said.

“We as a community do have the responsibility for compassion,” said Councilman Das Williams, who added that panhandlers often will use money for drugs and alcohol, resulting in a kind of “slow suicide.” Williams said “compassion does not go along with handing them the gun to shoot themselves with.”

The council agreed that the subcommittee will meet in 60 days to discuss its progress and will return to the council in a year with a status report.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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