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Local News

Milpas Community Association Lodges Complaint Against Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter

The group alleges that the Santa Barbara center isn't living up to the conditions of its city permit

An Eastside community group is going head-to-head with a Santa Barbara homeless shelter, alleging that the shelter isn’t complying with the city conditions required for its permit, and is calling for the city Planning Commission to re-evaluate that permit within the next 60 days.

Members of the Milpas Community Association distributed a hefty bound document to reporters, city officials and planners on Monday, outlining Casa Esperanza’s alleged offenses.

In a letter to Community Development Director Paul Casey, MCA President Alan Bleecker and Treasurer Julianna Reichard outline their case against the facility, located at 816 Cacique St.

At the heart of their complaint are two alleged violations — that Casa Esperanza staff haven’t been patrolling the neighborhood, and the organization hasn’t done the appropriate outreach, both of which are required under the group’s permit.

Scroll down to read the entire conditional use permit.

One condition says Casa staff are supposed to conduct daily patrols through the neighborhood, and should be contacting businesses and residents to check in on what’s going on. The group also raises concerns about the lack of a neighborhood watch, which is supposed to observe homeless activities in the area and enforce the facility’s code of conduct.

Casa staff have claimed that funding isn’t there to operate a neighborhood watch, the MCA alleges, or been told by Casa staff, that it’s the Police Department’s job.

The group also takes aim at the shelter for applying for a grant that would allow it to expand its jail-discharge program without modifying their CUP. That program would provide 87 inmates access to the intake process to secure shelter or housing at the time of release from jail.

“This program guarantees that a steady flow of homeless inmates are delivered to Casa Esperanze directly upon their release from county jail,” the document states, adding that the neighborhood will bear the brunt of inmates being funneled there from all over the county.

One case the group mentions is that of Brian Shannon, a man who was arrested in Santa Maria and transferred to Casa after his release from county jail. MCA maintains that he assaulted McDonald’s restaurant staff on Feb. 9, and was arrested, but remains a transient in the area, and “has continued to generate multiple calls to the police and subsequent arrests.”

Community Development Director Paul Casey said that the Planning Commission doesn’t have the power to revoke the shelter’s CUP, and that the shelter is scheduled for its biannual status update in September.

The MCA has been taking on homeless issues since it regrouped in 2010, but the MCA’s Sharon Byrne said the timing for this effort was due to the fact that the group wasn’t getting anywhere by working with the Milpas Action Task Force, which is responsible for oversight of the shelter’s compliance, over the last two years.

“We were determined to get some changes,” she said. “Every single thing we tried… we could never get everywhere.”

Byrne said that the group understands that the city needs to provide homeless services.

“The question is can you do it in such a way that allows peaceful co-existence with neighborhood?” she said, adding that the city’s three other shelters do co-exist successfully.

Byrne said that members of her group asked for Casa to approved a “good neighbor” policy, similar to the one adopted by the City of Santa Monica, which says that within a one-mile radius of the shelter, no panhandling, drugs or alcohol, or the like will be tolerated.

“All we’re asking Casa to do is to explain to clients to behave in the Milpas Corridor,” she said.

Casa Executive Director Mike Foley said he wasn’t given a copy of MCA’s document, and his staff will be combing through their own records before he can respond to each allegation.

“We always take the concern of the community very seriously,” he said, adding that he trusts the city has the report and will look into it.

“Once that happens, we’re confident that when all is said and done, that folks will see that we’re in substantial compliance with the CUP,” he said.

Foley said that the shelter has made significant improvements in the last 18 months, and actually expanded its “Good Neighbor Policy” at the last Milpas Action Task Force meeting.

“If we’re not meeting expectations, then the goal is to improve. If we are, then the goal is education,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Casa Esperanza CUP Resolution 3.26.09

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