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The following article was posted on February 1st, 2023, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 49 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 49

Santa Maria residents express concerns about new housing proposal from Santa Barbara County supervisors, nonprofit leaders


Neighborhood safety, home value, drug use, and density concerns met local leaders on Jan. 25 as they introduced Santa Maria residents to a new proposal to put an interim housing facility near the Betteravia Government Center. 

(left to right) Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, Good Samaritan Shelter Executive Director Sylvia Barnard, Marian Regional Medical Center President and CEO Sue Anderson, Executive Director of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley Edwin Weaver, and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson hosted a public meeting to discuss a new interim housing project in Santa Maria.

At the community meeting, one neighbor shared worries about loitering in nearby parks, neighborhoods, and shopping centers.

“The people we deal with as a local neighborhood, personally I’ve met some of them by name. I don’t envision them being in this program because they don’t want to be in this program because of the rules and regulations within the walls,” the neighbor said during the meeting. “I asked them myself and they told me flat-out no.” 

The project, now called Hope Village, would open 94 units of temporary housing on county property. Designed by Dignity Moves and run by Good Samaritan Shelter, Fighting Back Santa Valley, and Marian Regional Medical Center along with county services, Hope Village would allow guests to stay on-site between six and 24 months. They will receive round-the-clock care from service providers with the ultimate goal of moving into permanent housing.  

Resident Steve Wagner said he doesn’t think the project’s been adequately thought out and didn’t express a lot of faith in the proposal. 

“The government won’t in fact remove graffiti from its facilities they own and operate. Now we’re expected to believe the government is going to successfully run a homeless facility? An ongoing project with some of the hardest folks to work [with], we’re supposed to have confidence that that’s going to work?” Wagner said. “I mean it’s a nice show and the pictures look great, but I think there’s a lot of skepticism, so I hope we continue to talk and I hope the concerns can be aired and dealt with.” 

Others asked about funding for the project and whether it will be a permanent fixture in their community as other high density projects go up—changing the layout of the neighborhood. 

This rendering shows the layout of what Hope Village would look like if it’s approved and built out on county property.

Initially, Hope Village will be under a five-year contract.

Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino said the project is a Band-Aid solution to the homelessness crisis in Santa Maria, and she expressed frustration with state laws and requirements for her constituents.

“Sacramento is doing nothing; they’re just making it worse,” Patino said. “There’s a need, but how long do we go in our lives accommodating people who don’t want to obey the rules, made bad decisions for years, and will continue to make bad decisions? We can’t put them in a recovery program; we can’t put them in an institution. I think locally we need something more than this.” 

To answer some of the questions, Good Samaritan Shelter Executive Director Sylvia Barnard said there will be security and staff on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Individuals seeking services at the village will go through an application and referral process in order to enter, no visitors are allowed on-site, drug and alcohol consumption is not allowed, and a curfew is enforced.  

She said that case managers plan to work with houseless individuals in the surrounding communities to build trust and partnership to eventually move them into Hope Village, where they will develop a housing plan. About 60 percent of Good Sam’s clients are working to gain an income and get into housing, Barnard said. Good Sam also oversees a sobering center, detox center, residential treatment programs, and therapists in order to connect anyone with the services needed. 

“We make sure everyone has a case management plan because this is temporary, this is not forever. They have six to 12 months to get to permanent housing, and we work with the county on that,” Barnard said. “If they aren’t following the rules or if there’s an issue and their behavior doesn’t allow them to stay, then they can be exited from the program.” 

Kirsten Cahoon, Good Sam’s director of shelter operations, added that many individuals don’t want to put their spot at risk and often comply with the rules and regulations. 

“Our clients love being there, they don’t want to lose their opportunity to be there, and we hold our clients accountable,” Cahoon said. “So if they are out in the community causing an issue, we’re finding them loitering, they aren’t following the rules, they are risking losing their space in that facility and that’s not something they want to do.” 

Hope Village was not designed to answer every question and concern about homelessness, 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson said, rather it’s a part of a bigger puzzle the county’s trying to address. 

“We’re coming to you humbly so you know where we’re coming from on this project because we think we can turn the tables here,” Nelson said. “It’s not often you have two politicians up here, pinning their political careers on the line for a project. It’s because we believe we can’t do nothing anymore.” 

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino agreed and said the city is suffering because of a lack of action. He’s not trying to exacerbate the situation, he said, he’s trying to address the situation. 

“It is an experiment, but the reason why we’re doing the experiment is we don’t think you should be living with [homelessness] in your front yard right now,” Lavagnino said. “So if a year from now the situation is considerably worse than what you’re dealing with, we’re going to have to answer to you and say whether to continue or not, but not doing anything right now isn’t the answer here.” 

It’s not just the political careers of county supervisors at stake, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley Executive Director Edwin Weaver said, the reputation of many nonprofit leaders is also on the line. 

“We are going to have to ask the community to let us try and hold us accountable, so speak up. If there’s something wrong, we need to fix it. We won’t know for sure and we won’t prove it until we’re given a chance to try,” Weaver told the Sun on Jan. 26—after the community meeting. 

Fighting Back will oversee the units for 18- to 24-year-olds who have aged out of the foster care system and need supportive services to find housing—a concept Weaver said the county needs. In the last two years, Fighting Back’s case managers have met 222 homeless youth and successfully housed 100. 

Currently, Fighting Back has one house with a kitchen and four bedrooms that’s been helping people get off the streets, but it’s a really hard transition. With Hope Village, Weaver said he hopes it will make the shift easier for people coming out of homelessness with 24-hour safety and security, privacy, and wraparound services—something that the four-bedroom house can’t do yet. 

“It’s really the best way to get people into long-term housing. I know it’s hard to understand, but having a spot where our chronically homeless people can live in peace and get recentered will allow us to develop that relationship and help them move forward,” Weaver said. 

Overall, he thought the meeting went well and the public had reasonable concerns that the partners tried to address as much as possible before even approaching the community. 

“We don’t want to be a part of something that is disruptive or harms the quality of life, it’s actually the opposite,” Weaver said. “We want to increase the quality of life.”

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at

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