The Santa Barbara Homeless Day Center and Winter Shelter plans to temporarily move across the street from an elementary school, which has parents worried about their children’s safety.
The shelter and day center will move to Ortega Street on April 1 – across the street from the Santa Barbara Community Academy – while a second story is added to the primary location. The second story will house restrooms, children’s play areas, and therapy rooms. The shelter will remain at the temporary location until Dec. 1, when the winter shelter officially begins operation.
During the winter season, the shelter, located on Cacique Street, serves about 150 of the approximately 3,000 homeless people in Santa Barbara County in its 30 beds. It is run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Jenelle Ford, a member of the Santa Barbara Community Academy PTA, said the plan to move the shelter across the street from the school has raised serious concerns among parents about the safety of their children. Ford said they plan to discuss these concerns at an upcoming PTA meeting on Feb. 25.
“There is a lot of unity among the parents and we are tying to do our best to get the word out more to make sure a large majority of us will be discussing it,” she said.
Peter Marin, a founder of the homeless advocacy group the Committee for Social Justice, said the homeless’ rights to city services should not be ignored because of concern over the location.
“Whenever someone tries to do something for the poorest of the poor they are looked down upon. Kids will have to look at poor people, and they won’t like it. Middle and upper class people are nervous, and nobody can guarantee that anything bad won’t happen. Does this mean we shouldn’t temporarily move the shelter?” he said. “The homeless [people] have as much right to service from the city as school children.”
Glen Mowrer, a lawyer for the Committee for Social Justice, said he has done extensive work with Santa Barbara homeless citizens and sees no cause for worry.
“In my experience, I have never encountered a homeless person at a shelter who has assaulted a member of a community,” he said.
Joan Sotiros, director of homeless shelters for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the location of the temporary shelter was chosen by the Coalition to Provide Shelter and Support for Santa Barbara Homeless and that opposition was expected.
“This temporary location has been used as a temporary location before. Our organization operates shelters in L.A., Ventura, and Santa Barbara, and finding a location for a shelter where all people in the surrounding community are happy is difficult,” Sotiros said.