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Santa Barbara Officials Say More Must Be Done to Address Homelessness

The results of the latest point-in-time count highlight a decrease in the number of people living on the city's streets since 2013

Volunteers hit the streets in the pre-dawn hours during a past point-in-time count of the homeless in Santa Barbara. City officials say more must be done to combat homelessness.
Volunteers hit the streets in the pre-dawn hours during a past point-in-time count of the homeless in Santa Barbara. City officials say more must be done to combat homelessness. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk file photo)

The number of homeless people in Santa Barbara has gone down, but on Tuesday city officials said more must be done to quell homelessness — and young “urban travelers” in particular.

One plan of action discussed at the Santa Barbara City Council meeting involved launching a pilot program on State Street that’s seen success in the Milpas corridor, where nine of the Eastside’s 10 most chronically homeless have been housed in the past year.

Jeff Shaffer, community coordinator for the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, or C3H, said his organization was working with the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization to replicate the program, which combines the efforts of local business with essential services.

The reason Shaffer came to the council was to share results of the latest point-in-time count, which was conducted over two days in January by C3H, Common Ground Santa Barbara and hundreds of volunteers.

Every other year since 2011, the organizations conduct the count and create a vulnerability index to determine the number of homeless living in the county, whom to house and what strategy to pursue.

This year, volunteers contacted 893 homeless people in Santa Barbara.

That’s down from 946 in 2013 and 1,040 in 2011 — a 14-percent decrease over the past four years — but Santa Barbara still boasts most of Santa Barbara County’s homeless at 61 percent.

Rent is high, housing vacancy is low and there’s not enough assistance to go around — a perfect storm keeping Santa Barbara at the top of the local homelessness list.

Notable statistics from this year’s count showed 52 percent of respondents said they were living in the county before becoming homeless, with 22.4 percent coming from elsewhere in California and 23.9 percent from out of state.

The average age of those contacted in Santa Barbara was 45, the average time each had been living without a home was 6.1 years, and 15 percent of them were veterans.

The count found local homeless continue to face a high risk of violence and trauma, serious injury, chronic disease and mental illness.

An encouraging 74 percent of those surveyed reported they were enrolled in some type of health insurance.

Shaffer shared three of C3H’s strategies to reduce the number of homeless, including “housing first” (permanent housing right away), “housing ready” (placement in emergency shelter before transitioning into permanent housing) and “reunification,” where an individual is reunited with a family member or former employer who can provide support.

He said C3H was still tallying the cost savings of the Milpas pilot program, which he expected to be significant after compiling all ambulance use, jail visit and other data.

City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss wondered how many homeless reported receiving other government assistance, along with the number of urban travelers passing through, but exact figures weren’t available.

Shaffer said C3H was also still examining the street youth issue.

“The more we understand, the more we know what to do,” Hotchkiss said, asking for more detailed data in the future.

Council members paid special notice to another C3H initiative, a landlord liaison program meant to create incentives for property owners renting to those coming out of homelessness.

More landlords are looking at market rental rates and deciding against catering to low-income brackets, according to C3H.

Shaffer said half of the homeless housed through the Milpas program had mental-health issues, with the others battling substance abuse.

“The nine have not gone back to the streets,” he said, agreeing that more information was needed to best decide where future funding should go.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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