In a collaboration between Santa Barbara County, the Bay Area-based nonprofit DignityMoves, and the Good Samaritan Shelter, an interim housing community in downtown Santa Barbara is getting closer to coming to fruition.
A sample unit was available to preview at the project’s groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting on Sunday.
According to DignityMoves founder Elizabeth Funk, 83% of unhoused individuals living in encampments said in a survey that they don’t want to go to local shelters because they want to have their own space and some privacy.
DignityMoves aims to solve this by building a “village” of 33 portable, single-room units in a parking lot between Garden and Santa Barbara streets, located at 1016 Santa Barbara St.
“Our streets have literally become the waiting room [for housing],” Funk said. “I think this is really a game changer.”
Each unit, built by BOSS Cubez, will be 64 square feet and include a bed, a desk and chair, windows, and — what Funk said is the most important and appealing feature — a door that locks.
The units also will be equipped with lighting, heating and air conditioning, electricity, and outlets.
Other structures in the community will include offices for Good Samaritan to provide onsite services, a dining area, and a shipping container with bathrooms, showers and a laundry room inside.
Once the site is open and begins housing people, Good Samaritan will have 24/7 onsite staff providing case management, drug and alcohol services, and mental health services.
Good Samaritan Executive Director Sylvia Barnard said they will also be partnering with Behavioral Wellness, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Doctors Without Walls, and other organizations to provide services and work to transition individuals into more permanent housing.
The county is underwriting the cost of operations and services for three years, as well as $600,000 towards construction, using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Gensler Architecture designed the site pro bono.
The total cost of construction is about $1.4 million.
“Our goal is to make a great impact in that time period,” Barnard said. “An individual that is homeless is somebody’s somebody. … Somebody’s kid, somebody’s sister, somebody’s cousin.”
While the project is temporary, the units are designed to be portable and can be moved to other locations to serve even more of the homeless population.
“I’m hoping this is the first of many around the county,” Funk said about the interim housing community.
DignityMoves is inviting community members to donate towards the project, with a goal of $800,000 for the remaining construction costs, furniture and site beautification.
For example, advisory board member and local philanthropist Aaron Edelheit said that units can be sponsored for $25,000 apiece and the dining room can be sponsored for $40,000.
Edelheit also said on Sunday $450,000 was raised.
“We’re coming together here to say that we can move, and we can help people, and put a dignified roof over their heads, and get them the help they need. … [The hope is that] in three years, we can transition over 200 people to permanent supportive housing,” Edelheit said. “Whenever the community gets behind something, it happens.”
The site will include elements to match and fit into the local aesthetic of Santa Barbara, such as an arch and terracotta roofs.
According to Funk, the rest of the units will be delivered to the site in late February or March, and DignityMoves is hoping to start housing people by April 2022.
Funk also said that, while they hope to bring more of these interim housing communities to areas throughout the county, she also wants to create a “playbook” for other organizations to build their own interim housing in other areas across the country.