Isla Vista’s first houseless shelter, currently dubbed the El Colegio Project, received $7 million from the state’s Homekey Grant, the California Department of Housing and Community Development announced on Jan. 13. 

The El Colegio Project was approved in June 2021 by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and currently consists of a 20-room, dorm-style building with 50 beds, multiple bathrooms and a kitchen and dining area. 

The community hopes to rename the shelter “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 Board of Supervisors will vote on renaming the shelter on Feb. 15. 

Funding for the continuation of the project will now come partially from Project Homekey — a project undertaken by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (CDHCD) — focusing on promoting “safe, affordable homes and vibrant, inclusive, sustainable communities for all Californians,” according to the project’s website

Santa Barbara County was one of three awardees for the Project Homekey Grant; Santa Clara County and Kern County were the other two recipients. 

These three awardees really showcase the essence of Homekey,” CDHCD Director Gustavo Velasquez said in a statement. “Whether it’s a project that serves homeless youth, to a site near a major university, to a motel conversion with a whole suite of supportive services to get people back on their feet. We’re creating more than 200 units of housing to give folks a fresh start.”

According to a press release from Governor Gavin Newsom’s office, CDHCD provided the grant so that the county can “provide supportive services including case management, mental health services, and substance use disorder treatment, along with income support,” and help create “off-site amenities near the project [that] include a bus stop, grocery store, health facility, pharmacy and two health and wellness centers” for the El Colegio Project. 

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann — the former Isla Vista representative on the Board of Supervisors until redistricting changed the county lines in 2022 — initiated the work for the El Colegio Project and said she’s “ecstatic” that it received $6.9 million in funding. 

“This project demonstrates that, with the right kinds of support, people who have lived unsheltered for years can indeed get stabilized and turn their lives around,” Hartmann said in a press release. “It is an incredibly rewarding effort to be part of, requiring the coordinated work of so many different County and community partners. We are tremendously gratified by this stellar result.”

After the new district lines took effect, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart became Isla Vista’s representative on the Board of Supervisors and said that he looks forward to creating additional sites that serve a similar purpose to the El Colegio Project. 

“This grant will help make an immediate difference in the lives of vulnerable community members by providing individuals with a safe place to stay, access to services, and an entry point into permanent housing,” Hart said in a press release. “We are committed to working with our local cities and community partners to identify additional sites for transitional and permanent supportive housing throughout Santa Barbara County.”

In total, Santa Barbara County was awarded two financial awards — the Homekey Grant and the Emergency Solutions Grant Coronavirus — from the state, totaling $10 million to help fund housing for houseless residents living in the county. The Emergency Solutions Grant Coronavirus will help address sheltering, outreach and rapid re-housing in Santa Maria and in the Santa Barbara County Continuum of Care service area. 

A version of this article appeared on p. 2 of the Jan. 27, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Atmika Iyer
Atmika Iyer (she/her/hers) is the Daily Nexus editor in chief for the 2022-23 school year. Previously, Iyer was the County News and co-Lead News Editor for the 2021-22 school year. She's a lover of loud music, loud laughs and loud prints.