On Monday night, the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center in downtown Santa Barbara opened its doors for the winter under its new name, welcoming community members, shelter board members and the homeless.
Formerly known as The Coalition to Provide Shelter and Support to Santa Barbara Homeless, the center announced its new name at a grand opening barbecue dinner donated by Tri-County Produce. The name was chosen in a contest, held through the Santa Barbara News-Press, that received almost 200 suggestions from community members. Mayor Marty Blum and board member Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree unveiled the name after a speech given by Executive Director Hal Onserud.
“This center is a unique and valuable community resource. I love this annual opportunity to share this meal together,” Onserud said.
Onserud spoke to a small crowd of roughly 50 community members and coalition board members, as a line of homeless people filed though the door for a barbecue meal served cafeteria-style. Onserud said he joined the shelter almost two years ago, after 18 years of working with the homeless in New York.
Robert Pearson, the president of the board of directors, said he was pleased with the evening.
“We have a great turnout tonight, including community leaders as well as the public that needs our services,” Pearson said.
The shelter, located at 816 Cacique Street, was established in 1998 by the Coalition and renovated from a warehouse into a dormitory-style shelter in 2002. The 25,000-square foot building contains one women’s dorm and two men’s dorms, with a total of 200 beds, most of which were donated by UCSB in the summer of 2002, when Santa Rosa Hall was remodeled.
UCSB also donated several couches and chairs from San Rafael Hall and blankets previously used in Santa Ynez apartments. Mark Rousseau, energy and environment manager with the Housing and Residential Services at UCSB, was in charge of finding a place for the used furniture and blankets.
“We try not to throw things away, and we try to help local organizations when we can,” Rousseau said. “I’m glad to see it go to good use.”
Santa Barbara City College students volunteered their time earlier on Monday to help make the beds in the dorms, where board members had placed small doilies with chocolates on each pillow. By 6:30 p.m., roughly 175 people had signed in at the center, each receiving a locker and a bed. Steven Jackson said he intends to stay at the center for most of the winter.
“It’s very adequate. I’m going to stay here a while and see how I like it,” Jackson said.
The center offers services to its residents through the help of affiliated organizations such as Santa Barbara County Health Care Services, the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and Santa Barbara County Health Services. The Community Kitchen of Santa Barbara, adjoining the shelter, serves breakfast and dinner to registered residents at the center and lunches free to anyone.