Friday, November 16 , 2018, 10:43 am | Fair 67º


Record Demand Forces Homeless Shelter to Turn Families Away

The Transition House feels the effects of the economy as it helps more and more people find jobs and homes.

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Single mom April Burch and her three daughters, Sarah, left, Kimberly and Miracle, found refuge at the Transition House after being evicted from their apartment. The organization also helped Burch land a full-time job at Ralph’s grocery store. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

In a sign of the troubled economic times, the Transition House, a Santa Barbara shelter serving homeless families, has turned away about 90 families for lack of space in the past year — by far the largest number in its 24-year existence.

“We’ve never seen anything like this like before, and the trend seems to be continuing,” said Kathleen Baushke, the organization’s executive director.

Transition House, 425 E. Cota St., serves 70 people at a time, or about 20 families, each of who can stay for up to three months. This calendar year, the center has served about 375 people; it has turned away about 275.

The program is designed to help people land employment and ultimately find a permanent home. The organization also helps residents save money, places children in schools and provides free after-school tutoring for children. All applicants must pass a drug test.

The 90 families turned away for lack of space this year is a sharp increase from last year, when the number was 19. In all the years before that, the center — which opened in 1985 — has not, to Baushke’s knowledge, had to turn away any families for lack of space. (Some, however, get disqualified for things such as failing the drug test.)

The local scenario mirrors a nationwide trend. In October, USA Today ran a story based a survey it conducted concluding that families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. The story cited job losses and foreclosures as the main causes for the increase.

At the Transition House, the vast majority of families who came knocking hailed from the South Coast, Baushke said, adding that North County also has a facility serving families.

Baushke said families this year have been bedeviled by higher rates of unemployment, as well as underemployment, in which hours are shaved to help employers make ends meet. Also, she said, many families have been evicted from homes whose landlords owned multiple properties, but lost one to foreclosure. Some families have experienced foreclosure themselves.

“We have Latino families, African-American families, Caucasian families, two-parent working families, single moms, single dads with kids — we run the gamut,” she said. “Poverty is affecting all of these groups across the board.”

Unemployment and foreclosures aren’t the only factors. Baushke said that this summer’s skyrocketing fuel prices took a major toll on one family, whose parents commuted to Santa Barbara every day for work. The family gave up its place in Lompoc and the parents kept their jobs in Santa Barbara, she said.

A new resident who is grateful for a space is April Burch, a single mother of three young daughters, Sarah, Kimberly and Miracle. In September, the family was evicted from the apartment they had lived in for two years. Burch called Transition House, only to find that it was full. “They tell you to keep calling,” she said.

Burch, who took up temporary residence at a battered women’s shelter, did as she was told and eventually found refuge at the Transition House. The organization then helped her find employment. It was a difficult task; she hadn’t worked in two years. She landed a full-time job at Ralph’s grocery store, where she works the service counter cutting meat and making sandwiches.

Burch was reticent to apply at first because she had done so the year before, to no avail. She tried again, and when Burch got a call saying she would be hired pending passage of the drug test, she was ecstatic. “I knew I was going to pass it, because I don’t do drugs,” she said.

Meanwhile, other local homeless agencies have experienced similar increases.

Rolf Geyling, executive director of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, on Monday said the organization is serving about 30 percent more meals every night than it was this time a year ago.

Mike Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter on Cacique Street, told the Santa Barbara City Council last month that the shelter took in 67 people during September 2007, compared with 138 during the same month this year.

On Monday, Foley said his agency — which caters mostly to individuals — has served about 60 families in the past year, of which the majority had been turned away by the Transition House. (Some of the families have been evicted from the Transition House for behavior problems, he said, and are not among the 90 families turned away for lack of space.)

In contrast to the trend at the Transition House, Foley said the number of families served at Casa Esperanza isn’t particularly unusual: Each year, the shelter serves 45 to 60 families.

Foley added that despite the alarming spike in families getting turned away from Transition House, it doesn’t appear many are landing on the streets. He said that in the past six months, homeless outreach workers have contacted 450 people on the streets. Of those people, he said, workers found just one family, which, incidentally, Noozhawk interviewed last month. The family found refuge in a city program for RV dwellers.

“Just because they are turning a lot of people away doesn’t necessarily mean they are ending up on the streets,” he said. “The truth is, we don’t know where they all end up.”

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