The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors convened on Tuesday to discuss plans to find permanent funding for the recently closed Bridgehouse Homeless Shelter in Lompoc.
The 52-bed facility — previously operated by nonprofit Lompoc Housing Community Development Corporation — shut its doors on Jan. 17 and left many Bridgehouse residents in temporary emergency shelters set up by local churches and organizations. After Santa Barbara County Executive Officer Chandra Waller expressed concerns about whether the county’s budget would be able to permanently finance the facility, the board decided to manage the shelter in the interim until it can create a long-term solution for the site.
According to Assistant Santa Barbara County Executive Officer Renée Bahl, the board advised the Bridgehouse staff to collaborate with Santa Maria’s Good Samaritan Shelter in an effort to make the Santa Barbara facility accessible for now.
“A nonprofit operated [Bridgehouse] and closed it down due to financial problems,” Bahl said. “The board took action with the deed in lieu of the process … The board further directed the staff to work with Good Samaritan on an operating agreement to get the place running.”
During the meeting, Waller said the shelter’s operations would put a strain on the county’s coffers.
“There is a cost, as you can imagine,” Bahl said. “There is an ongoing operating cost and the CEO recommended that we not take it, so we can avoid that cost. The board said let us take it and work with our partners to mitigate that cost.”
However, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the county aims to transfer the shelter’s funding and management to a third party.
“We said we were going to take over the deed and in lieu for the bridge house,” Carbajal said. “[We would] take it over from Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation and work within a year to transition the facility to Good Samaritan while they help leverage different resources.”
Lompoc Mayor John Linn, who helped manage a similar shelter in the region, said taking hold of the struggling shelter could take as little as one week.
“I think they are moving rapidly forward now,” Linn said. “There were some requirements to fulfill. The county is a much bigger entity so I imagine it would take some time. The city is much more nimble.”
According to Good Samaritan Administrator Pat Brady, the organization is the only group that applied to run Bridge House. Brady said the county is continuing to search for possible options to finance the shelter.
“I do not think they have really decided on how to fund it fully,” Brady said. “I think part of the decision yesterday was to accept the deed but also have the CEO meet with Good Samaritan and other interested parties in the community to formulate a plan. But at least we have a shelter that will be open.”
The county faces limited time to finalize a permanent management plan due to the temporary emergency shelter’s limited resources, Brady said.
“Both the Marks House and the church warming center became emergency shelters and that was only supposed to be for a very temporary basis but it has been going on for five weeks,” Brady said. “Though the local church has been wonderful, it is just too much of a burden for them to continue this as a shelter. We have been getting upwards of 25 [individuals] a night.”
New Life Christian Center Pastor Douglas Conley said the NLCCA transformed its “warming center” into a temporary homeless shelter for former Bridge House residents.
“We started off as a warming shelter, then became an emergency shelter after Bridge House closed,” Conley said. “As a warming shelter, we agreed that if temperatures drop below 35 degrees and there is a 50 percent chance of rain, we would open up our doors. We agreed to make the change when Bridge House closed because we were already a warming shelter. It is something we agreed to do. This is what we feel is our call to the community, and our church prepared for a long time for a disaster.”
Conley said the church is also accepting contributions such as food, paper goods and other living essentials to continue providing shelter and three meals a day.