Five homeless people have died in Santa Barbara since the New Year began, including three this past weekend.
Officials suspect cold and stormy conditions are largely to blame for the deaths, which included a Vietnam veteran who froze to death on State Street while sitting in his wheelchair. Local homeless venues have been flooded with people looking for shelter, prompting demands from community members for new public housing.
Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza Homeless Center, said the county needs to construct new shelters.
“Casa Esperanza is designated as the winter center, and the program has been full and at capacity for the past 20 days,” Foley said.
Foley said mental illness and addictions often impair the homeless, preventing them from finding adequate shelter. In addition to limited beds at shelters, Foley said the number of detoxification beds at county rehabilitation centers is also limited.
“We believe that the county of Santa Barbara should be helping open these centers,” Foley said. “Warming shelters throughout the state could be opened up. We should all be working together to make that happen.”
Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said community members voiced concerns at the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting about overcrowding at homeless shelters.
“I just would say that it’s a tragic situation that we have homeless in our community that are in such dire need of shelter and services,” Wolf, who represents the 2nd District, said. “The county is working with the city, and we understand the severity. We are working to [come up] with a new protocol that can help alleviate the situation.”
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she is preparing to discuss the issue with the board. Farr, who is also a member of the county South Coast Homeless Advisory Committee, said more mental health specialists are needed.
“I think it’s certainly terrible that anybody would die on the streets,” Farr said. “Nonprofit community organizations and churches have stepped up, and they need things to be growing and not abating.”