As part of ongoing efforts to provide housing services for Isla Vista’s growing population of houseless residents, 20 temporary pallet homes were delivered to the parking lot of the Isla Vista Community Center on Dec. 7; after a week of set-up, the homes can shelter up to 40 houseless residents.
The 64-square-foot temporary homes were delivered by Pallet, a company that designs and produces aluminum composite shelters for people experiencing houselessness, according to its website.
After delivery and assembly, the housing will be managed by Good Samaritan — a Santa Barbara county-based houselessness assistance agency — and aims to connect its residents with other housing options including permanent housing assistance, counseling and case management, according to Kimberlee Albers, the county’s homeless assistance program manager.
Each pallet house includes electricity, beds, climate control, locking doors and windows, ventilation and a fire extinguisher, according to Pallet’s website. Part of the week-long set up will involve the county wiring electricity to the homes.
In total, the project will cost around $900,000, but because the county only has enough federal funding from COVID-19 aid relief to sustain operations for six months, the site will expire in June, Albers said at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Nov. 10 meeting.
By the end of the temporary housing program, Albers said Good Samaritan expects 15% of the pallet homes’ residents to move on to permanent housing. The overall goal, according to Sylvia Barnard, Good Samaritan’s executive director, is to get as many residents as possible into other housing options.
“At the end of those six months, everyone will have either a housing plan, an alternative shelter plan, or [were] reinvited to their families.” Barnard said. “At that point we can actually shut down and be able to shut down and let Isla Vista go back to how we know it.”
Joan Hartmann, Santa Barbara County third district supervisor, voiced support for the plan at both the Board of Supervisors’ meeting and the Nov. 10 Isla Vista Community Services District (I.V. CSD) meeting.
“We’ve got the money. It’s ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ money. So we have the money to spend on this. And we want to use it for a good purpose,” Hartmann said at the Nov. 10 meeting.
In order to promote COVID-19 safety among the residents, Good Samaritan will not put two people from different household units in the same shelter together and will encourage residents to social distance when outside, according to Albers.
But not all houseless residents welcome the pallet housing. Some residents said they believe the county’s money would be better spent elsewhere, such as on park maintenance or job openings for houseless residents.
Jake, a resident in Sueño Orchard Park who preferred to be identified by his first name for privacy concerns, suggested that the county hire houseless residents living in parks to maintain them. That way, Jake said, “everybody who wants to get back to society now has a job opportunity.”
“I would move out of town or to another location but there really isn’t another location. So we [the park residents] need to take care of this place as well,” Jake said, adding that he wants to help maintain the parks and has already reached out to no avail.
While the county is well within its right to allow Good Samaritan access to the Isla Vista Community Center since it owns the building, the Isla Vista Recreation & Parks District (IVRPD) owns the parking lot. On Nov. 23, the county signed an agreement with the IVRPD to use the parking lot as part of the housing site, Albers said.
The I.V. CSD does not need to facilitate the project, as it is being handled by the county, but its directors unanimously expressed approval for the project at its Nov. 10 meeting.
During the Nov. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting, Father Jon Hedges, an outgoing director on the I.V. CSD, spoke about I.V’s dire housing situation and its exigency for new solutions.
“Many of our American neighbors face the pandemic this winter, while sleeping rough on our streets, and in our public open space is in itself a disaster,” Hedges said. “It is a category five, no less than what I saw after Katrina, Sandy, and Michael.”