Pixel Tracker

Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 2:22 am | Fair 50º


Santa Barbara Homeless Forum Digs Deep to Identify Its Root Causes, Solutions

Addiction, emotional struggles, competing services and lack of funds take a toll but groups resolve to help

Just one day after hundreds of volunteers finished canvassing the streets with Common Ground Santa Barbara, the discussion continued Thursday about how best to help the South Coast’s homeless population.

About 100 people gathered in the parish hall of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara to hear a panel of experts on homelessness give their thoughts on the problem as well as the solutions. The event was sponsored by Survival Santa Barbara, a series of events focused on keeping area warming centers open for the homeless. Former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, moderated the discussion.

“For some reason in the conversation, today the word moral doesn’t come up much,” Jackson said. “It’s always ‘fiscal’.”

Jackson recounted a conversation she had with Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who said that each night in the county, more than 1,000 children have no place to go.

“This is a stunning situation,” she said.

David Hopkins, a formerly homeless man, was on the panel. He went through the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s program and is about graduate as a certified drug and alcohol counselor from SBCC.

“I didn’t choose to be homeless,” he said.

Hopkins said many people on the streets have emotional baggage, as he did. He said he was sexually abused as a child, and “I would say about 80 percent of the girls I met while I was homeless had been sexually abused.”

“All my friends are dead who were out there,” he said.

Hopkins called on county, city and nonprofit agencies to work together in a more cohesive way.

“There are so many little groups that nothing gets done,” he said.

Jennifer Ferraez, a homeless outreach worker for the Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health Services Department, said that housed people often have the same addiction problems and emotional struggles that the homeless do.

“So much is exposed when walls are taken away,” she said.

Ferraez agreed with Hawkins that the system is fragmented and that often people give up trying to find the resources they need to heal. Restorative policing has been effective in the area, and Ferraez said she’d like to see that increase.

The homeless are often arrested for offenses like sleeping in public and for open-container violations, and Deputy Public Defender Deedrea Edgar says she sees them every day. Edgar and those in her office are appointed to represent those who can’t afford an attorney. The establishment of a homeless court is under way, she said, which would help with the problem.

Currently, people with mental illness who can’t care for themselves can be placed under the conservatorship of the county, Edgar said. She added that she has about 110 open cases of people who have been conserved as a result of mental illness. Legally, people can also be conserved for alcoholism, but the county has no facilities for those people, even if they do want recovery.

“When we closed the mental hospitals in the 1970s, we didn’t have any idea what that would mean,” said Suzanne Riordan, panelist and founder of Families ACT! Now, people with mental illness often end up in jail, where things can turn violent.

“I don’t think this is an improvement,” she said. “It’s in our interest to come up with a plan.”

Dr. David Lennon of the county Public Health Department talked about the homeless death report issued last summer. The report showed that nearly 90 percent of the 45 homeless people who died last year had some type of mental health diagnosis, ranging from adjustment disorder to schizophrenia. A majority of those people didn’t make contact with ADMHS at any point, he said. In addition, the surveys conducted last week through Common Ground Santa Barbara will give the county a clearer picture about how to best help the homeless medically, he said.

Santa Barbara City Councilman Dale Francisco gave an impressive history of mental health treatment in the United States, culminating with the de-institutionalization of the 1950s and ‘60s.

Legal challenges also exist in helping people who might not necessarily reach out themselves. Under the current law, the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, patients must present a danger to themselves or others, or be deemed gravely disabled, to be taken in for emergency psychiatric treatment involuntarily.

“That law has hardly been altered at all,” said Francisco, who encouraged reform.

In addition to Thursday’s event, Survival Santa Barbara will be hosting a benefit concert Sunday featuring Glen Phillips, formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket, and other musicians as a benefit for the warming centers. The concert begins at 7 p.m. at The Marjorie Luke Theatre, 721 E. Cota St. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased at the door or in advance from the Lobero Theatre Box Office, 33 E. Canon Perdido. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

About 100 people gathered Thursday at the Survival Santa Barbara forum held at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara.
About 100 people gathered Thursday at the Survival Santa Barbara forum held at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >