Good Samaritan’s emergency shelter project for south Santa Barbara County, currently dubbed the El Colegio Housing Project, was approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in June 2021 as a shelter in Isla Vista to address houselessness in the community.
Since its opening, the shelter has opened its doors to local houseless residents from Isla Vista and Goleta. The shelter was one solution to address houselessness in Isla Vista — a phenomenon that more than doubled over the course of the pandemic.
As more and more houseless residents congregated in the UCSB college town in 2020, the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) began clearing out parks with encampments.
In November 2020, IVRPD closed three encampments — Camino Corto Open Space, Sueño Orchard and Del Sol Vernal Pool Reserve — after the Santa Barbara County fire marshall declared them as fire hazards.
In December 2020, IVRPD closed the encampment at Anisq’Oyo’ Park and gave residents the options of applying for housing at nearby pallet homes, a temporary housing site that operated for six months at the Isla Vista Community Center; moving to People’s Park; or leaving I.V.
Finally, in May 2021, IVRPD cleared the encampment at People’s Park due to the park department’s lack of finances, the environmental degradation of People’s Park and the health risks currently posed to houseless residents and park visitors.
The county’s Board of Supervisors will vote on potentially changing the name of the El Colegio Project — which is currently the only county-approved I.V. location for I.V. houseless people — to “Hedges House of Hope” in honor of Father Jon-Stephen Hedges, a community organizer, spiritual leader and social justice advocate known for his work with the houseless community in Isla Vista.
“The shelter … overall has been going quite well,” 3rd-District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said in a statement to the Nexus. “It blends in nicely with the surrounding area and the UCSB and IV communities have been very supportive of this transitional housing project.”
The shelter is currently housing approximately 30 residents, with a few soon exiting the facility to enter permanent housing or transitioning into sober-living rehabilitation.
The community response to the shelter has overall been positive, with community members donating a pool table and other goods.
“The community has stepped up to help make it feel like a home,” Hartmann said in the statement to the Nexus.
The shelter has a maximum capacity of up to 50 beds, depending on COVID-19 protocols, and the facility is not open to drop-in services or housing. All of the current residents of the shelter are locals in Isla Vista or Goleta.
“All of the current residents came from encampments in Isla Vista or the surrounding Goleta area, which was the goal of the project — to close dangerous encampments, to provide safe and dignified temporary housing, while residents incrementally realign their lives, and get documents ready to receive housing vouchers, with a plan to move into permanent housing,” Hartmann said.
This facility operates as a “low-barrier” shelter, which means there aren’t many limitations to qualify for the shelter, and illegal substance use and alcohol use are not permitted on site.
“The goal of the facility is to provide a secure and safe temporary housing option for individuals experiencing homelessness where they can stabilize their lives through the provision of wrap-around on-site care to help transition them into permanent housing,” the press release from June 15 read.
The facility is a 20-room, dorm-style building with bed areas, multiple bathrooms and a kitchen and dining area. All funding is provided by state and federal sources.
There have been no calls for law enforcement since the shelter’s opening, and there have been no disruptions in the neighborhood either, according to Hartmann.
A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Nov. 4, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.