Santa Barbara is aiming to end chronic homelessness by 2017.
Under an initiative deemed Bringing Our Community Home, over 100 housing units have been developed and 109 more are currently in the making for the county’s transient population. The plan – which was implemented in 2005 with the unanimous support of the County Board of Supervisors and other city officials – is organized through local agencies and overseen by BOCH’s 30-member governing board.
At a press conference held at Santa Barbara’s Transition House on June 17, community campaigners discussed their efforts to reduce the number of people living on the streets in the face of the harsh economic climate and the problem of a growing number of homeless individuals in the county.
John Buttny, executive director of BOCH, said the program’s unique approach to combating homelessness stands apart from previous efforts because it focuses on providing immediate shelter for those lacking the security of a home.
“Our program aims to get people directly into housing,” Buttny said. “It’s called the ‘housing first model’. Without a roof over their heads, the services don’t really do much good. The idea is to get the homeless into houses and then connect them with resources they need to maintain that housing.”
The program’s 10-year plan consists of four key strategies: preventing homelessness, reaching out to those presently displaced, providing opportunities to establish income and guaranteeing stable housing.
Lt. Brian Olmstead of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol said the innovative collaboration of agencies is particularly effective since a life on the street is often the consequence of a myriad of hardships, not just financial difficulties.
“You’re dealing with several different problems at the same time,” Olmstead said. “It is not just about a lack of money or not being able to afford a place to live. It’s about mental health issues, alcohol dependency and drug issues.”
Father Jon-Stephens Hedges of St. Brigid Fellowship, a homeless charity specific to Isla Vista and part of the BOCH movement, said the program is particularly useful for a community riddled with misunderstanding.
“The face of homelessness used to be a single, alcoholic man,” he said. “Everybody thinks they’re there because they want to be there, they’re there because they’re drunks, or they’re there because they’re losers. Well, those are all prejudices and stereotypes. I mean, they are literally people like us. It’s a cross section of the population.”
Stephens said although temporary shelters are not a permanent answer to the problem, he and 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr intend to bring transitory housing in I.V. This type of community assistance has so far been lacking, Stephens said.
“We’ve got new wider sidewalks, but no umbrella over the head of a homeless guy,” Stephens said. “There’s no shelter in Isla Vista. Right now, a shelter is a tarp wrapped around you in a park, but we’re working on that.”
Buttny said the plan has achieved several of its original goals, including the completion of a catalog that allows public access to information on nearly 55 homeless resources in the county.
“One of the things that has been really well-received is the homeless services locator project,” Buttny said. “We’ve created a database that includes contact information as well as a program description of each service… It’s really been assisting people in their work.”
Buttny said the most significant component to the success of the 10-year plan is the outreach workers who try to connect with the homeless and provide them with a chance for change.
“Nothing’s forced on anybody, but we try to create opportunities for them to get the services they need,” Buttny said. “What we’re finding is that, when we can break down those barriers, people are very open to our help.”