Thursday, May 24, 2012

(Santa Barbara) Supervisors move forward with county homeless services merger


With the number of homeless people in Santa Barbara County steadily increasing, greater efforts are being made to aid this segment of the community.

On May 15, the homeless issue came before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors once again. Due to a sluggish economy, a weak job market, and the effects of California Legislature A.B. 109 (legislation to address prison overcrowding), homeless-related problems have made a recurring appearance before the board.

A 2011 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report on recidivism of the homeless, mentally ill, and indigent noted that there’s no county entity to coordinate public and private resources needed to aid the homeless community.

According to a plan recently brought forward by 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, homeless services groups Bringing Our Community Home, Common Ground of Santa Barbara, and the county’s homeless advisory committees have helped come up with a new model that will consolidate homeless services and provide solutions to the issues listed in the jury report.

The supervisors unanimously voted to conceptually approve the merger and asked staff to come back to the board with a plan to implement the county’s role in the new collaborative structure for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

A letter issued by the board stated that diminishing resources make communication among private, nonprofit, and government sectors more important than ever in the face of increased homelessness.

Current services contain isolated government-, nonprofit-, business-, and community-based programs that don’t utilize collaboration, the supervisors said in the letter.

“Communication has been weak,” said Mike Foley, director of Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter and co-director of Bringing Our Community Home.

According to the letter, the new model will establish an infrastructure that allows for policy-making, coordination, implementation, and an evaluation of services. The model includes a council that will create policy and establish long- and short-term goals, while a coordination committee will establish priorities and address policy needs.

At the center of this new model is the county-coined “air traffic controller” position, referencing a person who will collaborate with the coordinating committee, interface with the community, and reach out to treatment and shelter providers.

These consolidation efforts would contribute to Bringing Our Community Home’s Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, and reports show that it would also save the county a lot of money.

The county’s mentally ill and homeless recidivism cost analysis report stated that by setting a goal to reduce homelessness by 5 percent or by providing housing for 300 individuals, the county could save approximately $3 million per year.

Foley said that with the political will and funds in place, efforts to reduce homelessness should be even more successful.

This new consolidation plan will be sent to homeless services organizations in Santa Maria, Goleta, and Lompoc for review, with the first meeting of the collaborative committee expected to take place in 30 days.

“We are very excited to be moving forward,” Foley said.

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