Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Committee formed on homelessness problem


City leaders met a proposal to form a subcommittee focused on addressing homelessness issues in Santa Barbara with unanimous approval yesterday.
Officials transformed the idea — initially planned as a task force consisting of business, community and homeless outreach leaders, as well as homeless representatives — after deciding a task force format could prove too cumbersome to be expedient and effective.

“I feel that there is some urgency to this conversation and that, like the gang violence issue, it needs to be focused,” said Councilmember Iya Falcone, who broached the topic in early April.
Plans for the newly formed committee include holding publicly noticed meetings open to all comers to discuss various issues related to homelessness before returning to the full City Council with recommendations.
City leaders hope the committee will be able to make headway on strategies to reduce aggressive panhandling, utilize existing shelters more effectively and improve communication between law enforcement and homeless outreach workers.
“It is a difficult and persistent issue, but I do think we need to address it, so I fully support this,” Councilmember Roger Horton said.
Councilmembers Falcone, Dale Francisco and Helene Schneider volunteered to sit on the three-member subcommittee and direct the series of strategic public meetings. Schneider praised the committee model over a task force option.
“Having a three-member committee that can then host meetings where everyone can participate, I think, is more inclusionary than exclusionary,” she said.
She also noted the recent passage of the county’s budget, which followed a lengthy and often heated series of discussions on funding for mental health services. Schneider called for a more complete picture of how that funding will break down at the county level to understand how services will truly be impacted.
Yesterday’s hearing took on a personal note when a woman who identified herself as a longtime local resident held up a photograph of Gregory Ghan, a 53-year-old homeless man who was severely beaten in Isla Vista on May 31 and died 10 days later after being taken off life support.
“We’ve lost too many people because there’s not enough interaction between the homeless community and the public in general,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Councilmember Grant House echoed the woman’s personal account, explaining how he knew Ghan as a good friend for many years and describing him as a gentle, kind soul.
“For somebody that wonderful to have gone out that way is just wrong,” he said.
Ultimately, House said, the success of the committee will be measured by its ability to listen, distill and implement suggestions offered by those living on the streets.
Nancy McCradie, a longtime local activist who recalled serving on a similar homelessness task force in the early 80s, agreed strongly with House.
“Believe me, the homeless have a lot of ideas about helping the homeless,” she said.
City leaders also got a sneak preview yesterday of one topic that will likely be discussed by the newly formed committee: alcohol impact areas.
Also called recovery zones, the concept involves banning or limiting the sale of certain types of alcohol — typically single bottles or cheap liquor — in a geographical area adversely affected by chronic public intoxication and illegal activity associated with alcohol consumption.
Criteria for establishing such a zone in Santa Barbara could include police service calls, fire department responses for alcohol-related emergencies, adult liquor violations, drinking in public citations or litter problems.
“This has been very effective in a municipality that has had some terrible issues along these lines,” Councilmember Das Williams said, referring to an alcohol impact area established in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, an area plagued by chronic public inebriation.
Ultimately, the council agreed that such an issue should be examined in more detail by the subcommittee on homelessness issues.

No comments: