Monday, July 16 , 2018, 3:17 am | Fair 66º


Local News

Local Homelessness on Rise Despite 10-Year Plan to End It

Bush's homelessness czar visits Santa Barbara and credits Santa Barbara County for its headway.

Philip Mangano, at left, looks on as local officials sign a pledge to end chronic homelessness. From left are Santa Barbara City Council members Helene Schneider and Das Williams, county Supervisor Janet Wolf, and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum. At right is Roger Heroux, executive director of Bringing Our Community Home. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

As a coalition of Santa Barbara County agencies enters the third year of its 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, the good news is they’ve begun chipping away at the problem, but the bad news is local homelessness appears to be on the rise.

The coalition — which includes the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, Lompoc and Santa Maria, as well as Santa Barbara County — has put about 50 people into permanent homes in two years, and hopes to house nearly 100 more in the next year. But up to 850 chronically homeless folks remain on the streets in the county, officials say.

Meanwhile, the number of newly homeless people visiting Casa Esperanza, Santa Barbara’s largest homeless shelter, has risen in the past six months by somewhere between 5 percent and 12 percent, presumably because of the bad economy, said the shelter’s executive director, Mike Foley.

“During the first couple months of the (fiscal) year, in June and July, we were down a little,” Foley said. “Then, in January and February, when the economy turned — Bam! Instant increase.”

Foley and other local housing officials delivered this news Thursday, shortly after President Bush’s “homeless czar” visited Santa Barbara to trumpet a message: To eradicate homelessness, you have to build houses for them, not merely give them “a blanket and a bowl of soup.”

Speaking to a newly formed task force in charge of overseeing the county’s 10-year plan, Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said the county appears to be on the right track, noting, among other things, the cooperation among the various municipalities.

“I can tell you, it’s not common in this country for cities to work with other cities,” said Mangano, who peppered his hour-long speech with jokes and sound bites. “It’s an unnatural act between consenting public officials when they work together.”

He also praised a city project called El Carrillo, a two-year-old apartment complex at 315 West Carrillo providing permanent housing for dozens of formerly homeless people.

Santa Barbara County’s 10-year plan closely follows the outline of a relatively new model devised by the federal government, thereby allowing the local agencies to retain federal dollars for their housing assistance programs. The 10-year plan is among about 350 across the United States, and calls for putting all of Santa Barbara County’s chronically homeless people — officials put the number somewhere between 600 and 900 — in permanent housing by 2017.

Philip Mangano

After speaking Thursday, Mangano toured some of the city’s newer housing programs for the homeless, and interviewed some formerly homeless people. They included a five-year resident of the Victoria Hotel whose story illustrates Mangano’s contention that building housing for the homeless is superior to the more traditional method of providing meals and beds at shelters.

The 63-year-old resident experienced his first spell of tragic luck at age 4, when the car carrying his parents and brother veered off a cliff on Highway 154, killing all three. At age 18, he went to fight in Vietnam, where he witnessed horrific combat. Not long after he returned to the United States, his wife died.

For the next 25 years, the man lived in his truck, parking it on side streets in the area. But five years ago he learned of the nonprofit Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, which offered him the housing in the hotel on East Victoria Street just off State Street. The man told Mangano that he has been living there contentedly ever since.

Jeanette Duncan, executive director of Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, said she knows the man well, but nonetheless was shocked by his story.

“I have to tell you, I knew nothing about his background,” she said. “He’s a really nice man, and a human being — that’s the main thing.”

This fiscal year, the county has a goal to provide housing for 90 more chronically homeless people, said Roger Heroux, executive director of a new organization called Bringing Our Community Home, which is responsible for coordinating the 10-year-plan.

About 10 of them will be housed in a development under construction on Garden Street near Ortega Street. It is slated to open in November. About 40 more will be housed at a development in Lompoc. Meanwhile, the county has set aside about $60,000 for a program called “master leasing,” in which government agencies try to find housing for homeless people in regular apartments. Under the program, the county will pay for rent, deposits and any damages.

Meanwhile, officials remain concerned about what appears to be a rise in homelessness.

Foley said the recent uptick at Casa Esperanza is made up mostly of the newly homeless, not the chronically homeless, who, by definition, have a disability and have been homeless for at least a year, or four times in the past three years.

The flip side, he said, is that the shelter — which last year served roughly 1,100 people — in one year has nearly doubled the number of placements into permanent homes.

But he attributed that in part to how newly homeless people are easier to rehabilitate than the chronically homeless.

“Quite frankly they haven’t fallen apart yet,” he said.

Heroux, who recently retired as the county’s public health director, said he believes an increase in the chronically homeless population, which has remained flat in the past year, is around the corner.

“If this foreclosing crisis is prolonged, I think we’ll see more individuals falling under the definition of chronically homeless,” he said. “I also think we’re going to see a lot of individuals coming back from the war ending up on the streets.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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