Amid controversial community discussions about reducing homelessness, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held a meeting Tuesday to determine the procedures for opening countywide homeless warming centers.
The board decided that the warming centers, which have approximately 200 beds combined, will begin operation sometime around December. Centers open if there are two consecutive days of predicted rain, if the temperature drops below 40 degrees or if it is raining and the temperature is extremely low.
According to Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza Homeless Center, warming centers prevent homeless fatalities. Foley added that Casa Esperanza has only 100 beds and has to turn away homeless people every year, leaving them without shelter.
“Warming centers are to prevent hypothermia and to prevent homeless people from dying from exposure to the cold,” he said.
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said the centers are only open on a short-term basis and will only operate for approximately 50 nights throughout the winter.
The Milpas Community Association recently voiced their concerns about increased crime in their neighborhood, which they say can be traced to the proximity of Casa Esperanza.
Although MCA Head Al Bleeker said he is not opposed to warming centers, he said he wants the shelter and city officials to devise a better overall plan to decrease transient crimes.
“As an organization, we don’t really feel that we have solutions to the problems that are occurring,” Bleeker said. “We have opinions and feel the way the city is handling the homeless problem isn’t working. It is the responsibility of the homeless shelter and the city to fix those problems and determine solutions.”
According to Bleeker, homelessness in Santa Barbara’s Eastside is greater than ever.
“I’ve personally had people tell me they don’t want to come over to [the Milpas] area because of homeless blight,” Bleeker said. “A number of businesses and residents have to remove graffiti and pick up after homeless who sleep outside every night. All circumstantial evidence leaves people to believe there’s so much homeless activity that it drives people away.”
Foley said Casa Esperanza sympathizes with community concerns and is willing to work to make positive changes.
“I would say we agree with them absolutely, whole-heartedly with their concerns,” Foley said. “Casa Esperanza is very, very sensitive. We know that there’s lots of reasons that homeless people are here and [they aren’t here] just because of Casa Esperanza.”