A meeting about a proposed temporary village for homeless residents on Santa Barbara County-owned land at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria drew angry comments, questions and some support on Wednesday night from neighbors and others.
Hope Village would have 94 cabins to house more than 100 people at an empty lot on the Betteravia Government Center. That lot is bordered by Centerpointe, Lakeside and Southside parkways plus the College Square shopping center housing businesses.
County officials estimate that Hope Village would cost $5 million to create and $1.5 million to operate annually with funding available for three years. The public-private partnership has been modeled after a similar efforts on the South Coast and involves funding from both government and nonprofit organizations.
Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino along with partners from several nonprofit organizations provided details and information to the audience of about 45 people.
“It’s something that we’ve seen work,” Nelson said. “This is a solution that seems to be something that people in Santa Barbara County that are homeless are attracted to and potentially is going to work for us.”
Of the 94 units, 10 would be dedicated to young adults, 30 for people needing recuperative care and 54 for individuals or couples to provide a bridge between being homeless and get a permanent place to live.
Unlike traditional shelters, the residents would be allowed to have their pets at the site.
Staff and security would be provided around the clock with cameras on site. Additionally, in answering questions from the audience, officials said guests wouldn’t be allowed to visit those living at Hope Village.
Residents wouldn’t get kicked out during the day and would be able to lock their doors to ensure their belongings remained safe.
“One of the other exciting things about it to me is it doesn’t look like a typical shelter because of the fact this is a public-private partnership,” Lavagnino said about plans to screen the village.
The project includes Dignity Moves, Good Samaritan Shelter, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley, Marian Regional Medical Center and others. The location would mean access to county workers from several departments, including social services, public health and more.
Edwin Weaver from Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley shared about an 18-year-old who aged out of the foster care system and was homeless. A spot in a traditional shelter aggravated his mental health issue, landing him back on the streets.
“These are our kids. They’re not strangers. They’re from our community. Look at the data. They grew up here and they’ve lost their way,” Weaver said.
Neighbors worried about loitering, but officials noted the area already attracts a regular population of homeless residents.
“This is what’s going on right now. I’m not trying to exacerbate the situation. I’m trying to address the situation,” Lavagnino said.
Audience members suggested different sites away from their homes or businesses.
Other sites were explored, officials said, but ruled out for various reasons, including for being too small or lacking access to services.
One angry resident asked why the southern end of Santa Maria has seen so many new housing projects on long-empty sites.
“Even though it’s a moral imperative to help the homeless, I don’t think this project has been adequately aired out,” he said.
When he kept referring to drug and alcohol users, a Good Samaritan official said it’s a stereotype that all homeless people deal with addiction, adding that a number of factors contribute to homelessness.
“This is not going solve all the problems in our community, but it’s a missing piece right now that we have,” Nelson said, adding that the law prohibits clearing encampments unless shelter beds exist.
“This is a part of a bigger puzzle that we’re trying to address in the county, and we are coming to you because we know that you in this community are going to be most impacted by this initially,” Nelson added. “We want to hear what those concerns are, we want to hear what you’re already experiencing so that we can try to make those things better when this project goes in.”
Neighbors were skeptical about promises that Hope Village would not exist at the site beyond five years , leading Lavagnino to say he would ask the county’s attorney if the deadline could be included in approval.
The Board of Supervisors will consider approving the project for Hope Village in February or March.
Not all who attended opposed the proposal, with at least two people offering support.
“We can’t afford not to do this,” farmer George Adam said.