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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 19th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 3

Latest homeless count shows progress in some areas, but not all

By ZAC EZZONE

In its latest census of homeless individuals, Santa Barbara County found some improvements compared to last year, despite an overall increase in the number of people counted.

The county’s Housing and Community Development Division released the 2020 point-in-time count results on March 10. According to these numbers, 1,897 people were identified as homeless when the count took place on Jan. 29. About 90 more people were counted as homeless this year compared to 2019, which is an increase of roughly 5 percent. 

The county’s Homeless Assistance Programs Manager Kimberlee Albers attributed this increase to a rise in the number of people living in their cars, particularly in places along the South Coast, like Carpinteria and Goleta. Albers said this increase is probably tied to the rental market. As rent increases and people are unable to pay their bills, their first course of action is usually to move into their cars. 

Along with a greater number of people living in their cars, the county identified 613 people as chronically homeless during the count, which is 45 percent more than last year. Albers said while individuals living in their cars may only need rental vouchers, or some other help, to secure a place to live, the needs of people experiencing chronic homelessness are usually more extensive. Helping people in this category requires building more permanent housing with supportive services.

“Here, supportive housing has been done through development, which is much slower,” Albers said. 

Despite increases in these areas, the number of individuals counted in North County is down this year. In Santa Maria, 382 people were counted this year as opposed to 464 in 2019. And in Lompoc, those numbers are 211 and 249, respectively. 

Albers said that through state grant funding, Good Samaritan was able to begin new services last spring, including the addition of substance abuse treatment beds that may have contributed to this decrease. Permanent supportive housing beds slated to come online this spring at The Residences at Depot Street, which is a project through the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara, should continue to help Santa Maria’s homeless population. 

“When you have more beds that are closer to meeting the demand, you’d certainly expect to see decreases,” Albers said. “I’m excited to see 2021 numbers to see if the decrease continues.” 

Although the county experienced mixed results in its count, the total number of homeless people identified is not too far from previous years. Since 2013, the number has mostly fluctuated between 1,800 and 1,900, aside from in 2015 and 2018 when it dipped below that range. 

“I think while one person is too many, and nearly 1,900 shows we have a massive amount of work to do, we take some encouragement that we’re not seeing the spikes that many California communities are experiencing,” Albers said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature are funneling millions of dollars to local jurisdictions throughout the state to address the problem. The most recent round of funding comes in through the state’s Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention program. 

The county is expected to receive $4 million through this program in early April, county Senior Housing Specialist Lucille Boss said. Slightly less than half of the funding is reserved for the county to use, while nonprofits and cities can submit project proposals to try and secure funding from the remaining $2.1 million. 

A combined $1.7 million from these two pots of money will go toward a navigation center, which is a shelter focused on connecting people with resources to find housing, in South County. Most of the remaining funding is slated for rental assistance and rapid rehousing services, as well as outreach efforts to connect vulnerable populations with permanent housing. 

The gravity of the county’s homelessness situation was evident in a report county Public Health Department officials presented to the Board of Supervisors in February. This report details the number of people who die in the county while experiencing homelessness annually. According to this annual report, 41 people died in 2018, which is in line with totals from previous years. In 2017 and 2016, 44 people died, and in 2015, 40 people died. 

During the presentation, Public Health Department Assistant Deputy Director Dana Gamble said that almost three-quarters of the deaths occurred in South County and that the leading causes of death were cardiovascular diseases and then drug or alcohol overdoses. Gamble also presented data that showed many of the individuals who died in 2018 had frequent contact with various county departments, local hospitals, and community homeless service providers.

First District Supervisor Das Williams opined that because the county and its partners focus heavily on permanent housing, fewer resources are dedicated to shelters in South County. He questioned whether additional shelter space could have prevented some of these deaths. Meanwhile, 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart noted that the average age of the individuals who died is well below the average lifespan of somebody who lives in a home.

“It is very sobering to hear this report, and particularly the age, the premature [average] age of death at 58 years old,” Hart said. “And it really underscores the need for us to continue to work on this issue, the severity of the issue.” 

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








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What do you think of the Lompoc prison facilities' ways of mitigating the spread of COVID-19?

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