The Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors announced yesterday its plan to create a special position to combat homelessness throughout the county.
The board approved a contract to hire Roger Heroux, the county’s former director of public health, as the new homeless coordinator at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The position was recommended in Heroux’s report on homelessness services in Santa Barbara County, which the board received in March. Heroux, who attended the meeting to speak about the report and answer questions from the public, said he wants to streamline and improve the services the county already provides for its homeless population.
Heroux said the county currently provides services for the approximately 6,000 homeless individuals living in Santa Barbara, but he thinks the programs would be more effective if they were more focused and accessible to the local homeless population.
“There are many homeless individuals that want to take the next step to becoming a member of society again, but [the help] isn’t there,” Heroux said. “There is no systematic way that we have to address the multiple needs that these individuals have. We’ve got to have a focal point. We get a lot of complaints that people can’t access the system and that no one is available to answer their question. Our services are good but I believe we can do better.”
Heroux said Santa Barbara’s homeless population includes people of all ages, including many youths who leave foster homes with nowhere to go.
“I want to put a face on the homeless in Santa Barbara – from the young to the old and everywhere in between,” Heroux said.
Jim Laponis, deputy county executive officer for Santa Barbara, said Heroux will help coordinate and consolidate current county programs that help the homeless while working towards a 10-year plan to reduce homelessness within the county.
“Working to solve problems of chronic homelessness takes a large percentage of the resources presently available,” Laponis said. “[Heroux] will work towards implementing the recommendations of the report.”
Robert Ingless, who has been homeless for 10 years, spoke at the meeting and said he has received a total of $181 in aid from the county. He said he thinks the money for homelessness services in Santa Barbara is directed at maintaining the local homeless population, not decreasing it.
“People say go to the homeless shelters – that’s your home,” Ingless said. “They’re so crowded you’re lucky to stay one month out of the year.”
Ingless said he knows of several homeless people who died in the last couple of months, because the county does not have enough resources to help everyone.
“They’re dropping like flies, but there’s no help out there,” Ingless said. “The shelters are always full.”
Heroux said the report on homelessness services proposed the creation of a homeless coordinator, jointly funded by four existing county agencies – Dept. of Public Health, the Social Services Dept., the Dept. of Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health and the Housing and Community Development Dept. The four groups are contributing a total of $65,000 to fund Heroux’s position.
Ingless said he hopes the money provided for Heroux’s services goes to good use.
“We’re going to give this guy $65,000,” Ingless said. “I guess he’ll be doing better than what’s going on now.”
Ed Moses, director of Santa Barbara Housing and Community Development Dept., said Heroux, as an independent contractor with the city, will report to the Interagency Policy Council.
“We looked at the services offered and thought they would work best with a coordinator to bring it together,” Moses said. “We hope to create a one-stop information center, so it’s easier to navigate the bureaucracy and find the information you need.”
Diane Conn, a director at the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District, was one of nine people who spoke in support of the program at the meeting.
“I’m from Isla Vista and we have some of the sickest, mentally-ill homeless people in Santa Barbara and for a long time we had no services,” Conn said. “We need a coordinator. We need better services for the individuals that need our help.”