Santa Barbara County’s collective created to fight homelessness is contemplating its identity and its future: Should the initiative continue and, if so, what could it look like?

The Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H) Policy Council met Thursday morning to discuss the future of the organization that was formed to coordinate and foster countywide programs aimed at helping those living on the streets find a permanent home.

The policy council met in county supervisors' chambers in Santa Maria and, remotely, in Santa Barbara. The council is made up of members of the Board of Supervisors and participating city councils, including Santa Maria, Buellton, Lompoc and Santa Barbara. 

The 10-member council voted unanimously Thursday to create an ad hoc committee tasked with researching future options for C3H. 

“When C3H was first created, we were primarily a policy body, taking a 30,000 feet view, looking at the problem of homelessness,” said C3H Executive Director Chuck Flacks, who announced last week he will be stepping down from his position Nov. 6. 

About four years ago, soon after the initiative was launched, its funding agencies -- participating cities -- started asking C3H for measurable outcomes from its work.

To show tangible results, C3H had to change and grow.

“We went out and did outreach efforts in all cities to develop programs that would get people off of the streets, chronically homeless people into housing as rapidly as possible with supportive services,” Flacks explained.

According to Flacks, the programs worked.

“People that spent many decades on the street are now in housing,” he said.

Group’s change resulted in challenges

Working to provide measurable outcomes and not focusing on policy meant that C3H’s budget had to grow and change.

C3H has an annual operating budget of approximately $400,000. The majority of its supporting revenue comes from contributions received from participating cities and Santa Barbara County.

“Our large budget exceeds the amount cities and the county is able to provide,” Flacks said.

C3H does not operate as a nonprofit but, rather, as a stand-alone group that uses the United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County as its fiscal agent.

Beyond funding challenges, Flacks believes another major obstacle C3H has faced is confusion. 

Because the group had to grow and change, many of its partners, funding agencies and others are not exactly sure what C3H does.

Steve Lavagnino, C3H policy council chairman and 5th District supervisor, agrees and said it is time for a change. 

“We started this because there were all these different organizations doing the same thing. We were going to be the air traffic controller and be the umbrella under which all homeless programs would be the focal point,” Lavagnino said.

He added one misstep may have been forming its policy council. 

“Having policy people like us is OK, but having boots on the ground is where the focus needs to be,” Lavagnino said.

“I don’t think C3H failed. The people that are out there doing the work have done some amazing things. I’ve come to really respect those people that are out there doing it, but for me this structure doesn’t work,” Lavagnino added.

On Thursday morning, Lavagnino volunteered to be a part of the ad hoc committee. He will join representatives from the Santa Maria City Council and other participating cities.

A glimpse at the possible future

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“C3H is at a crossroads trying to figure out what we are, given this limited budget,” Flacks said.

One possible course is that C3H could continue on its current path, just in a smaller capacity, he said.

Flacks and other C3H officials are advocating for a different course -- to become a different program and join with the United Way of Santa Barbara County.

“We could merge all of these programs. By putting them all under one umbrella, we would bring the revenues that are already coming to C3H and leverage them into a bigger picture,” Flacks said.

During a recent trip to Los Angeles, Flacks, along with other C3H leaders, learned of a program called Home for Good.

The initiative is a United Way of Los Angeles program that works to combat homelessness with a community-driven action plan. It combines government, business, the faith community, and the general public and other nonprofits to work toward its goal to end homelessness.

The Northern Santa Barbara County United Way brought the idea back to the Central Coast and now is working on a Home for Good Santa Barbara County.

Flacks' proposal is for C3H to merge into the Home for Good Santa Barbara County program.

His idea is that Home for Good Santa Barbara County would have a similar committee structure and municipal funding sources as C3H, but it would work with other partners to leverage additional funds and resources. The new Home for Good/C3H hybrid would work to house individuals and families experiencing homelessness; invest private funds and align public resources; and engage the community to combat homelessness.

“It’s really a wholesale change in the structure,” Flacks said.

C3H’s ad hoc committee will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the group’s options and will make recommendations to the policy council at its next retreat in Buellton on Nov. 9.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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