How much does providing shelter to the homeless cost all of us?

Now that the “unsheltered” (homeless people) are being provided with what the homeless advocates call adequate temporary housing, how much is it costing?

In Lompoc a few months ago, the city decided to “clean up” some property east of the airport so it could be leased to farmers (previously the homeless had trashed the place and ruined farm crops). In the process, 43 homeless individuals were removed from the adjacent riverbed and their trash-strewn encampments removed.

According to a Feb. 7 staff report, the city manager reported that the city estimated it would cost $100,000 (for the fencing project), however: “The fencing was $86,351, police staffing for assisting in removal of encampments was approximately $11,535, dumping fees were $10,753, solid waste staff $15,400, and professional cleaning services was $7,519, for a total $120,805.” 

So, a $20,000 overrun and two large piles of vegetation remain in the field, and the homeless have returned to the nearby riverbed.

He also said, “There are a number of homeless persons that have relocated within the city that had been identified during the 2018 cleanup. Those individuals are known as ‘services resistant’ and pose a greater health concern and will need additional outreach to find permanent solutions. During the outreach for the parcels east of the airport, there were 43 individuals identified, of which only four, or (9 percent) had ever lived in close proximity to Lompoc.” 

The city manager didn’t try to explain how or why the other 39 came here and proposed that “regional jurisdictions need to start looking at the homeless problems in Lompoc differently and transition from emergency sheltering to transitional shelters and provide services to help the homeless find permanent solutions.”

Well, they are trying transitional shelters down in Santa Barbara; a recent news article pointed out their experience and some facts that we should consider. The project in downtown Santa Barbara is far removed from multimillion-dollar homes in the city (we don’t want “those people” in our neighborhood) in a former parking lot and on excess city property; it has space for 34 individuals.

The project was completed in October 2022, it is fully occupied, and there is a substantial waiting list of needy new residents. There is no indication of how much these temporary, relocatable, code complaint, pre-built shelters cost to build.

According to an article in the Santa Barbara News-Press (“A place they can call home,” Feb. 4, 2023), “Neighbors will tell you they notice a visible difference,” Ms. Elizabeth Funk, the CEO of DignityMoves said. “There are no more people sleeping on the stairs in front of the art museum. The project gets them off the streets and gets them out of survival mode. It is a measurable and visible impact. Most people offered a bed in a group shelter won’t go,” she said. “Nobody has turned this down. It gives us a chance to help them resolve underlying issues.”

These aren’t luxury accommodations; a single is 64 square feet (about the size of a walk-in closet), and they allow 94 square feet for couples (about the size of an office cubicle). There are shared restrooms and shower facilities, a laundry area, and kitchen/dining area.

But it’s safer than the street, warm in winter, cool in summer, and dry year-round. 

“The project is paid two-thirds by philanthropy and one-third by the county for the construction,” Funk said.

The county with your tax dollars supports ongoing “services.” Each individual costs $60,000 per year. For reference, $60,000 is more than the median income of a large majority of the families who will pay the bill and is equivalent to someone earning $30 an hour for a full-time job.

Lompoc City Councilman Dirk Starbuck was concerned about the Lompoc Airport fence project cost: “The Lompoc citizens are among the lowest median income throughout the county, and their tax dollars are very limited and should be used for their service levels. This cleanup was, what, approximately $120,000 split between general fund and airport and all, but irregardless, $120,000 to help four citizens,” he said.

Councilman Starbuck and the other council members might be more concerned if they considered that if a project of sufficient size to accommodate the approximately 200 homeless people in our city were built in Lompoc, it would have a sustained cost of $12 million a year based on the Santa Barbara experience. And I am guessing that there aren’t enough well-heeled people in our town to pay for the tiny shelters.

The only obligation a community has is to offer the “unsheltered” a place to stay, then if the person refuses, they can be put on a bus for another place. So, if as the CEO of DignityMoves says, “Most people offered a bed in a group shelter won’t go,” they should be given a one-way ticket out of town because Lompoc simply can’t afford the sustained cost for services.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

Correction: The original version of this commentary was updated to correct for factual inaccuracies. The correct number of places in DignityMoves' village is 34. An incorrect number for the temporary housing site's annual cost was removed. And the village opened in October 2022.

Comments (0)
Add a Comment