Friday, July 20 , 2018, 5:08 pm | Fair 74º


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Casa Esperanza Points to Progress on Financial Stability, Collaboration with Neighbors

Santa Barbara homeless shelter reports improvements to Planning Commission, expects new director to be named soon

Santa Barbara’s city council chambers were noticeably subdued Friday afternoon as the Planning Commission listened to how the city’s biggest homeless shelter is getting along with its neighbors, a remarkable departure from the same meeting that took place two years ago.

Casa Esperanza, 816 Cacique St., has long had a tenuous connection with neighbors and businesses in the Lower Milpas Street area. That relationship seems to have calmed a bit, however, based on the lack of public comment at last week’s meeting.

Two years ago, “this room was full of people who were one step away from pitchforks and torches,” commissioner Addison Thompson noted.

“You’ve obviously done something right,” he told Casa Esperanza acting director Joe Tumbler, who has led the organization for the past two months as it searches for a permanent director.

Tumbler outlined some of the major changes the shelter has implemented. The biggest — eliminating the shelter’s free lunch program and day center, and requiring sobriety — appear to have cut down on complaints about troublesome individuals, he said.

He said the organization has worked to raise enough funding to cover payroll and expenses, after its dire financial situation forced the layoffs of its top two positions, including that of executive director.

The shelter is in the final stages of its search for a new leader, and Tumbler said he hopes the new director will have started by Thanksgiving.

Tumbler said Casa Esperanza has a balanced budget moving forward, and that the shelter is actively seeking grants and funding.

The organization has also implemented a homeless-to-housing program that seeks to move homeless people into permanent housing within 100 days.

“In all areas we’ve made substantial improvements to our performance,” he said.

Santa Barbara police Lt. Brent Mandrell was on hand to confirm this. He said Milpas Street calls for service have decreased over the past years and remain markedly lower than the downtown corridor and the beachfront areas.

Mandrell said Casa Esperanza staff have collaborated with police to solve issues, and “we really can see a big difference since the changes they’ve done.”

The shelter’s conditional-use permit requires that it conduct neighborhood outreach and daily patrols, and staff also must check in periodically with the Milpas Area Task Force on complaints.

Dave Tabor, the task force chairman, said the group was formed in 2004, but began meeting regularly again in 2012. Now, the task force meets bimonthly and receives progress reports from the shelter.

Sharon Byrne, director of the Milpas Community Association, said Casa Esperanza’s changes have made a huge difference in the neighborhood.

The MCA even bought the shelter a golf cart to use during security patrols. The shelter even lent the vehicle to the MCA for a recent event.

“That’s a different relationship that we share” than before, Byrne said.

Commissioner Michael Jordan said he was happy to hear that Casa Esperanza is owning up for the tumultuous past.

“That’s a huge step,” he said. “It’s a marked change from two years ago.”

Commission chairwoman Deborah Schwartz said the task force has been a vital vehicle to bring various segments of the community together, to listen and learn.

Former planning commissioner John Jostes was brought in by the city as a mediator for the Milpas Area Task Force and the shelter, a decision that Schwartz said was a significant turning point.

“It seems to me you’ve come through it and out of it to a much better place,” she 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.

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