Monday, July 16 , 2018, 10:02 am | Fair 69º

 
 
 
 

Alan Bleecker: Milpas Community Association Focused on Constructive Solutions

Neighborhood group wants to work with Casa Esperanza on homeless issues, not against it

The Milpas Community Association wants to improve the quality of life for all residents, businesses and visitors to Santa Barbara’s Milpas Street neighborhood. We are not an “opposition group,” and we certainly are not attempting to shut down Casa Esperanza or eliminate programs that feed Santa Barbara’s homeless.

Alan Bleecker
Alan Bleecker

We have said this repeatedly, but unfortunately, some of the media continue to portray the situation in our neighborhood as an “us vs. them” battle. Perhaps they believe that this makes for more exciting reading. It is truly unfortunate, because this is creating an adversarial, polarizing debate in place of the constructive, collaborative effort that will be required to find an acceptable solution to the very real problems our neighborhood experiences every day in association with serving the homeless.

Members of our board spoke at the Planning Commission’s review of Casa Esperanza’s mandatory two-year progress report on Oct. 21, as did a large number of neighborhood residents and business owners. Not one of these speakers suggested shutting down or relocating Casa Esperanza, or eliminating its feeding programs. Yet this is how we were portrayed by some of the media. One local media outlet’s coverage of this event even began with the sentence “Business owners near Santa Barbara’s Casa Esperanza homeless shelter suggested on Thursday that the program eliminate the serving of free meals to the homeless.” This type of reporting is not going to foster a spirit of cooperation and problem-solving in the community at large. More important, it is simply a false statement.

Mike Foley of Casa Esperanza has stated that he wants to work with our organization to identify ways to address the negative effects we experience from having Casa Esperanza as a neighbor. The only way to actually accomplish that, instead of just paying lip service to it, is to revisit and update the conditions of the conditional-use permit under which Casa Esperanza operates. The planning commissioners who approved the original CUP in 1999 anticipated that this would be necessary in the future. The condition that establishes the two-year reporting requirement states clearly: “The Planning Commission reserves the right to further condition the project as necessary to sustain operation.”

The Milpas Community Association wants to find ways to address the impacts to our neighborhood. It would be unreasonable to say that every negative impact experienced by our neighborhood is generated by Casa Esperanza. However, it is equally absurd to make the claim that the presence and operation of Casa Esperanza does not contribute significantly to the incidence and frequency of homeless-related crimes in our neighborhood. Despite this, we have never proposed that getting rid of Casa Esperanza is the answer.

We would like to try to find ways to alleviate the strain that we feel without having to reduce the scope of services that Casa Esperanza provides. Mike Foley has been successful in providing many necessary services, and we need his help, as well as the cooperation of our city government to figure out mutually acceptable solutions.

We have never said “stop feeding the homeless” or “get rid of Casa Esperanza” or “just move it somewhere else.” Yet this is what we were repeatedly accused of by Casa Esperanza supporters during their testimony before the Planning Commission. Rather than realize that they have a real opportunity to work with our neighborhood to develop reasonable modifications to Casa Esperanza’s CUP, it appears that Casa Esperanza’s leadership believes it will be more effective to demonize our group, and people in our neighborhood who are simply asking that something be done to help mitigate the burden placed on us when the city decided to locate Casa Esperanza here.

Yes, it is important for the community to take care of its homeless population. But isn’t it at least equally important for that same community to take care of its residents, businesses and visitors, too? We think so. It certainly is not unreasonable, or “shameful,” for our residents and business owners to ask that something be done to improve conditions in our neighborhood.

The Milpas Community Association believes there are probably ways that many of our issues can be addressed without having to do so at the expense of Casa Esperanza or homeless assistance programs. We want, and we need, to work with the Casa Esperanza leadership to try to resolve these issues. But it’s hard to work as allies when the media appear intent on making us into enemies.

— Alan Bleecker is president of the Milpas Community Association.

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