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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 15th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 46

Santa Barbara County has slowly been getting money to fight homelessness, and it's scheduled to get another boost

By WILLIAM D'URSO

Homeless spending in California has climbed every year since 2018, with Gov. Gavin Newsom determined to make each subsequent budget another step toward aiding the state’s needy. He followed through in early January when he proposed another $1 billion to help slow the spike in homelessness.

“The $1 billion budget proposal to combat homelessness is a step in the right direction,” Assembleymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) said in a statement to the Sun. “The creation of the California Access to Housing and Services Fund could assist those on the verge of homelessness with rent stabilization.”

To Northern Santa Barbara County public servants, it’s unclear how much money they’ll have to ameliorate the local crises, but the need is clear. When a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office helicopter recently buzzed over the Santa Maria riverbed, deputies found a collection of homeless camps numbering in the 20s.

The assorted tarps and tented dwellings were planted off the beaten path of local patrols. A Santa Maria Police Department spokesperson said they knew about them, but because the camp was out of their jurisdiction, they’d lost track. 

“We knew it was there,” Santa Maria Police Lt. Russell Mengel said. “We just didn’t know the extent of it.”

Mengel said the problem has been growing for the past three or four years, and he estimates that 60 percent of the department’s daily calls have to do with homelessness. 

State spending to address the issue has continued to increase since former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a budget deal in 2018 allocating $500 million to homelessness, funneling $9 million into Santa Barbara County. Last year, the county received $4.1 million.

The Homeless Assistance program manager for the county, Kimberlee Albers, said it’s hard to say how much local agencies will get from Newsom’s latest pledge. After the money is proposed for the budget, Albers said it takes time for the funds to reach the county and the individual programs and nonprofits that distribute the assistance. She said the county is just now starting to fund services with the money set aside by former Gov. Brown. 

This new money and how much the county gets will hinge on the homeless point-in-time count that officials have planned for Jan. 29, a census conducted every two years. The money is partly designed to bolster Medi-Cal, the state’s public insurance program, but will also go toward permanent housing, emergency shelter, outreach, and rental assistance programs provided through nonprofits like the Salvation Army.

Albers said funding for programs that will prevent homelessness are as key as ones that get people off the streets—since the cost of housing remains a key battleground.

“Almost all studies will show you that a lack of affordability is a major cause of homelessness,” she said. “We have very low vacancy rates as well as very high rents, and that absolutely impacts a community’s homelessness.”

In Limón’s statement to the Sun, she also noted the lack of housing.

“The proposal also suggests regional support for more dwelling units, as well as board and care facilities,” she said. “This proposal is combined with a proposal to cut down the costs of health care through Medi-Cal and mental health resources.”

While homelessness has rocked other parts of the country, it hasn’t hit any as much as it has California. While the state contains 12 percent of the country’s total population, California is home to a quarter of the nation’s homeless residents. 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 breadth of the problem—which spans social, economic, and geographic issues—has led some lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, to call for a more complete approach as the talks over how to spend the money continue.

“California’s homeless issue is more than a health, environmental, and public safety crisis, it’s a major humanitarian crisis as well,” Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) said in a statement to the Sun. “We need a wholesale approach, which should include increased access to drug and mental illness treatment, streamlined approvals for shelters, and money for locals to clean up former encampments and address their environmental impacts.”

At the Santa Maria Police Department, Mengel said the laws haven’t changed. Loitering is difficult to enforce, and some people may have different needs than others. Mengel said homeless people tend to consist of three groups: the voluntarily homeless, the down-on-their-luck, and people with addiction and/or mental health problems.

“It’s a hugely complex issue. Different laws and different statutes apply depending on where you are,” he said. “Sometimes business owners get frustrated because there is no recourse.” 

Contact Staff Writer William D’Urso at wdurso@santamariasun.com.









Weekly Poll
Should the county Public Health Department help elementary schools apply for the state’s waiver program?

Yes, that’s what the department is there for.
Schools shouldn’t open at all right now, nevermind with the county’s help.
If the state thinks schools are ready, what’s the problem?
Schools should have to fend for themselves; it shows whether they’re ready to handle reopening.

| Poll Results






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