Santa Barbara County supervisors Tuesday unanimously agreed to assume ownership of the 56-bed Bridgehouse homeless shelter in Lompoc and move forward as quickly as possible with reopening the facility.
More than 20 people, including the mayors of Lompoc and Santa Maria, city councilmen, representatives of Santa Maria-based Good Samaritan Shelter and even several homeless people urged the board for more than an hour to take responsibility and do something. The vote was greeted with a rousing round of applause.
Specifically, the board agreed to hold onto the shelter for a year, provide temporary funding, and in the interim work on transferring the deed to Good Samaritan, which has expressed an interest in taking it over.
The shelter, which is valued at $1.5 million and sits just outside Lompoc city limits, was closed Jan. 17 by the bankrupt Lompoc Housing Community Development Corporation, leaving its inhabitants out in the cold.
As a result, many have packed facilities run by Good Samaritan, including Marks House in Lompoc, which was also formerly owned by LHCDC, and facilities in Santa Maria. Some have even turned up in Santa Barbara.
“I believe the county has a duty to take action today,” said Lompoc resident Carol Benham, who is a member of the Lompoc Human Services Commission. “The city of Lompoc has been hit with a double whammy from the LHCDC train wreck. Bridgehouse must be reopened while a long-term solution is found.”
Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray, whose district includes Lompoc, recused herself because of a potential conflict of interest.
The nonprofit LHCDC, which operated affordable housing and homeless shelters including Marks House and Bridgehouse, began dissolving its corporation in November and transferring its real estate assets.
Marks House closed temporarily Jan. 17, but reopened when Lompoc accepted a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure and gave $20,000 to Good Samaritan to run the shelter for six months.
On Tuesday, the board was asked to consider doing the same thing with Bridgehouse, which is on 11 acres off Sweeney Road just outside Lompoc city limits.
“I don’t want to see the county running this for 10 or 20 years,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, “but we need to do something immediately.”
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf noted that the county stopped putting Community Development Block Grant funds toward LHCDC last year when it heard about the impending financial implosion.
“This is just one big mess,” she said. “I think we all bear some responsibility on this (board). But the biggest culprit in my mind is LHCDC.”
Wolf told county Community Services Director Herman Parker that she wanted a forensic audit of “every single dollar that we have provided to this organization.” The direction was included in the motion approved by the board.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he liked the idea of an audit, but asked whether there was anything to look at.
“All these possible solutions are predicated on what LHCDC does,” he said. “It’s like the Loch Ness monster, everybody says they’re around, but we haven’t seen them and the fact that they’re not here is really disconcerting. Who do we deal with? Is there even an entity that we could audit? Right now we’re working with this amorphous thing that doesn’t even have the good will to show up to this meeting.”
All four board members agreed that it was necessary to accept the deed-in-lieu.
“I just don’t want to work with Lompoc Housing,” said 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr. “We’ve expressed various frustrations. The shortest, quickest way to find short- and long-term solutions is to accept the deed and go forward from there. Then we have control of the property and decide what to do.”
County Chief Executive Officer Chandra Wallar, noting that the county is facing a $15 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year and an even larger one the next year, defended a staff recommendation to refuse the deed-in-lieu.
“Your county provided over $8.5 million a year for homeless, social services, mental health, so you do recognize and provide those services,” she said, adding the recommendation was made from both a fiscal and a “person” standpoint.
Wallar suggested the board consider a temporary solution — take the $150,000 the board might be required to pay U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development if it were unable to operate the shelter, combine it with what remains this year of the $75,000 the county already gives to the shelter, and ask LHCDC to allow the county to enter the shelter and for six to nine months to provide services while the county works on a long-term solution with the state, city and nonprofit groups.
On Jan. 17, the day Bridgehouse closed, the Community Services Department issued a request for proposals to identify potential interim shelter service providers.
Good Samaritan submitted the only proposal, which outlined operating the Bridgehouse Shelter from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., 365 days a year.
The proposed annual budget was $242,000. In addition, it is estimated to cost about $15,000 a year for landscape maintenance for a total annual cost of $257,000.
The county anticipates that approximately $75,000 annually will be available in federal and local revenues this fiscal year and next to operate the shelter.