Homeless effort making progress

Preliminary numbers from January count show slight drop
2013-02-07T00:30:00Z Homeless effort making progressBy Marga K. Cooley / Associate Editor / mcooley@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

In the six months since the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors put $75,000 toward creation of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, the effort to pull homeless-serving agencies under one umbrella has gelled.

Progress outlined for supervisors this week includes the hiring of Jeff Shaffer as the collaborative’s coordinator, the appointment of elected officials from governmental agencies through the county, and the securing of United Way of Northern Santa Barbara County as the fiscal agent.

The collaborative, also known as C3H, has also set up office space in North and South County and coordinated and participated in the recent Point in Time Count and Vulnerability Index of the county’s homeless along with Common Ground Santa Barbara.

The two-day project to contact, survey and count the homeless is required every two years by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides funding for many of the nonprofits that serve the homeless.

Preliminary results of the homeless count were presented during Tuesday’s meeting and showed a slight drop in the number of individual homeless, from 1,536 in 2011 to 1,462 this year.

Of the 1,462 homeless people contacted this year, 1,240 were new contacts. Also contacted were 179 families.

“I think one of the reasons the number may be lower is that some people have moved on out of the area,” said Rob Fredericks, deputy executive director of the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara, which is involved in coordinating C3H.

“In 2011, that was at the height of the economic downturn, so we had a lot more people who were unsheltered at the time because of economic reasons,” Fredericks said. “People have gotten back on their feet somewhat. We’re still left with the chronic homeless, the more hard-core situations.”

The collaborative has also met its revenue targets for its first year of operation, and spent $34,000 so far on salaries, benefits and contract services.

The revenue, including the money from the county, includes $75,000 from the city of Santa Barbara, $25,000 from Second Story and $75,000 from Santa Barbara Foundation Innovations, for a total of $250,000.

In addition to the number of homeless being down slightly, Fredericks said the numbers of homeless deaths are down, too.

In 2011, there were 30 homeless deaths and in 2012, there were 20.

“We’ve made some inroads,” he said. “By actually getting people housed, that’s had demonstrable impact on bringing down the number of homeless deaths.”

Despite the decrease, however, Fredericks said the county still has a “very big” homeless issue.

“We need to really direct our resources into housing and support services,” he said. “We need to provide permanent housing to solve the homeless problem. Many are suffering from mental illness and other issues that we can’t just provide housing and expect people to live successfully. They need other support services. We need to marry those two.”

Fredericks said C3H is about just that, redirecting resources properly to house people.

“You haven’t had the cross-collaboration. That’s really what C3H is all about,” said Fredericks. “You have the decision-makers from county departments, housing authorities, nonprofits, all working together to direct the resources properly.”

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino are the board’s C3H representatives.

“I just have to say, it is so exciting to see it come to this point,” Farr said during Tuesday’s presentation. “It’s important for us to remember that taking care of any homeless we have in our community is the county’s responsibility, so this kind of coordinated effort, both fiscal as well as staffing and working with so many other groups and individuals in the community, just makes for a larger, better, comprehensive system.”

Lavagnino said he got involved in the effort because he didn’t want to see another program that continued to throw money at a problem that’s been around forever.

“What I saw is, when you collaborate you can leverage the limited resources we have,” he said.

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