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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 6th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 36

County and city elected officials discuss solutions to homelessness

By ZAC EZZONE

Despite comprising only 12 percent of the country’s total population, California is home to a quarter of the nation’s homeless residents. To combat this crisis, the state is opening up millions of dollars in funding, some of which will be available early next year. 


RARE OCCURRENCE
Elected city and county officials gathered in Solvang to discuss ways to address homelessness as a region.
PHOTO BY ZAC EZZONE

In Santa Barbara County, the number of residents living without a home has fluctuated from 1,700 to 1,900 since 2013, according to point-in-time count data. The gravity of this issue spurred a rare meeting of mayors, city council members, county supervisors, and others throughout the county on Oct. 30 in Solvang.

“I’ve been on the board for almost a decade now, and I can’t remember an event where all of us came together to tackle a specific issue,” 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said at the meeting. “And maybe that underscores how big of a problem homelessness has become for our region.”

The meeting took place the same week the county held public forums in Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Barbara to seek community input on how the county should approach the second phase of its Community Action Plan to Address Homelessness.  

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the first phase of the plan in June, which laid out five strategies to address the issue. These include increasing access to safe and affordable housing, as well as strengthening supportive services to help residents obtain and maintain housing. The goal of the second phase is to develop ways to implement these strategies.

These strategies will define how the county uses funding the state is making available to address homelessness. In 2018, the state allocated $500 million in Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding, of which $9 million was given to organizations in the county. More than half of the money was spent on affordable housing projects, including an 80-unit apartment complex called Residences at Depot Street in Santa Maria.

Next year, the state will open up an additional $651 million in Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention funding. Lahela Mattox, director of local partnership programs for the state’s Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council, said the state is waiting on data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before finalizing how much funding different jurisdictions and agencies will receive.

But county Homeless Assistance Program Manager Kimberly Albers said she estimates the county will receive about $4.4 million.  

County CEO Mona Miyasato suggested appointees from each city and the county form a group to identify potential sites for housing projects that this money could help fund. Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann would serve as representatives of the county.

Finding a site for one of these projects is often a challenge due to land prices and the public backlash against potential sites. First District Supervisor Das Williams lamented the latter early in the meeting.

“I openly question whether people really want us to solve the problem,” Williams said. “Twenty years ago, it was much more mysterious what the answer to the problem is. These days it’s pretty clear what works: Permanent supportive housing works. And yet people, project by project, seem pretty opposed to it.”

Williams also said the state’s “housing first” policy makes these type of projects an even harder sell. 

All projects that receive state funding must abide by this policy, of which the goal is to house people as quickly as possible and then connect that person to service options. But participation in services such as substance abuse or mental health treatment programs is not required to access or retain housing, Mattox said.

“It’s about preventing programs from pushing someone into homelessness because they are not participating in a service or participating in treatment,” Mattox said. “Because historically, some programs operate that way.” 

Mattox said this approach is designed to allow people to address their challenges at their own pace, while having a safe place to do so. 

As far as selling these projects to residents, Santa Maria City Councilmember Gloria Soto said it’s up to elected officials to change the narrative around homelessness to solve this public perception problem.

“Finding ways to help our community and residents understand that, yes, it’s bad for business to have people out in front of your storefronts,” Soto said, “but then don’t be unwelcoming to developments that may be next door to you to house folks.” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.




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