Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the second phase of a plan to address homelessness and asked the staff to come up with a plan to build shelters on county-owned property.
The Community Action Plan to Address Homelessness Phase 2 came with a detailed work plan for implementing its strategies, but supervisors said coming up with the money to pay for it all, getting communities to accept homeless housing and coordinating efforts among cities, agencies and nonprofit organizations will be a difficult undertaking.
“The Phase 2 plan is well done, but it’s 100 pages,” said Board Chairman and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson, noting the county can’t afford to buy everything in it. “I did some back-of-the-napkin math, and it looks like a billion dollars.”
Supervisors generally agreed that homeless encampments will continue to proliferate because legally they can’t be closed unless alternative housing can be provided.
A report on the action plan showed that the availability of emergency shelter space and rapid rehousing and permanent housing units have increased but transitional housing units have decreased over the last 10 years.
But the number of people who are homeless in the county has shown an increasing trend, at least in the past two years, according to the Homeless Point-in-Time Count that found 1,133 unsheltered and 633 sheltered homeless in 2019 and 1,223 unsheltered and 674 sheltered homeless in 2020.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a count wasn’t conducted this year, but a projection indicates 1,662 unsheltered and 533 sheltered, with 126 of those in temporary shelters.
As a result, there are housing gaps — the number of units available compared to the number needed — that still exist in all four categories of homeless housing in all three areas of the county.
North County communities of Santa Maria, Orcutt and Guadalupe are short 133 temporary beds, 361 rapid rehousing slots, 157 permanent supportive housing units and 192 long-term subsidized units.
In the Mid-county communities of Lompoc, the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos, the shortages are 61 temporary beds, 155 rapid rehousing spots, 76 permanent supportive housing units and 69 long-term subsidized units.
“We can’t build fast enough, but we can’t give up on that challenge,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.
Nelson suggested having the staff return with a plan to build shelters.
“At the end of staff research, there will be a question of where,” Hart responded.
Several supervisors noted that citizens want homeless encampments eliminated and housing provided for homeless people, but they don’t want them in their neighborhoods.
But they also noted that if the alternative is to have more homeless encampments, they might be less opposed to having homeless housing provided nearby.
First District Supervisor Das Williams said the county has identified potential locations on county-owned land, and he said if a federal package of homeless assistance comes through, the county could put that money toward a project.
“We’ve got two sites in 1st District right now,” Williams said. “Let’s use them.”
Assistant County Executive Officer Terri Maus-Nisich pointed out searching for sites is one of the strategies in the plan.
Another one of the strategies of the action plan is to prioritize certain groups and focus on ending or reducing homelessness among those, starting with veterans, unsheltered youth, families and then all others.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who started the annual Veterans Stand Down, said his office has identified homeless veterans through that event and now is contacting them to see how they can be helped.
“You’re never going to end homelessness,” he said, pointing out if you leave something better than you found it, you’ve made important progress. “This is a slog, and COVID just made it worse.”