Thursday, July 10, 2008

City signs deal to end homelessness


BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

In Santa Barbara to both give and get an update on efforts to combat homelessness, a top federal official gave a motivational kick to local leaders yesterday morning in the form of a stirring speech.

Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said he is impressed and encouraged by local efforts to aid those living on the streets, particularly the widespread political support for a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.
“Santa Barbara has turned the page on past efforts and is focused on getting the job done for our homeless neighbors,” he said, calling the document a common-sense plan rooted in reality.
Speaking in a packed David Gebhard Public Meeting Room, Mangano also offered a national view of the homelessness issue and stressed the importance of consistent and continual leadership.
Reducing the number of homeless people living on the streets is obviously the single measure that leaders should keep in mind, he said, and the single most important element toward achieving that goal is jurisdictional leadership.
For decades, cities have formed task forces, commissions and committees that create plans and strategies to curb the homeless problem, Mangano said, but those documents typically migrate their way to a shelf to become covered in dust and cobwebs.
“You have to hire Indiana Jones to find out what was in those plans,” he said.
But with the 10-year plan — a “housing first” vision coupled with constant support services — he said local leaders are joining hundreds of other cities across the nation to ensure that leadership on the issue never falters.
“Every one of them is filled with jurisdictional leadership,” Mangano said.
Even with that leadership, however, he argued that officials need to target their efforts toward what he characterized as the central antidote to homelessness: providing housing.
During the past 20 years, Mangano said leaders have hit the problem of homelessness with rolled-up sleeves and good intentions, offering social services and trying to manage the problem.
“If good intentions and well-meaning programs could have ended homelessness, it would have been history decades ago,” he said.
He also emphasized the concept of “legitimate larceny,” or stealing innovative ideas that have proved effective in other cities. Leaders can’t have nostalgia for programs of the past, he argued.
Einstein described that as insanity, Mangano said — doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result.
So rather than looking at the issue through a social service framework, he argued that officials should approach the problem with a business school approach by asking homeless people what they want.
The answer they give, Mangano said, is rarely a pill, a program or a protocol, but a place to live.
“When you offer a key to an apartment, homeless people come in,” he said. “…When you offer a person what they want, they’ll respond to it.”
A significant portion of Mangano’s business approach to solving the homelessness problem involves bringing economics into the equation.
When people are shown that providing services to homeless people while allowing them to bounce around from shelters to prison to hospitals is much more expensive than providing housing and bringing the services to them, he said there will be little opposition to creating supportive housing.
Mangano cited studies that show keeping homeless people in the “revolving door” system costs between $35,000 and $150,000 per subject per year, compared to costs of $13,000 to $25,000 to offer housing and support.
“You don’t need to be Warren Buffett or a hedge fund manager to figure out which one of those investments is the better one,” he said.
On the local front, leaders recently appointed Roger Heroux, a longtime homelessness consultant, as the executive director of the countywide 10-year plan, dubbed “Bringing Our Community Home.”
Speaking yesterday, Heroux said local leaders have numerous projects in the works that will move the county toward its goal of eradicating chronic homelessness by 2017.
“It’s all of us working together on what I refer to as a social epidemic sweeping the country,” he said. “…We can do it.”
Every year in Santa Barbara County, more than 6,300 people experience homelessness, with more than 4,000 people living on the streets during any given night. Spending on the issue is estimated at more than $36 million annually.
Heroux said in addition to 10 projects starting construction in the next three years, he is working with hospitals and law enforcement to create a system of support for those being discharged from beds or jail.
“In the next year, we intend to house a minimum of 90 chronically homeless people,” he said.
One project slated to open this fall is the Mental Health Association’s Building Hope, which will offer rent-controlled apartments paired with support services to those within 30 to 60 percent of the average median impact.
In terms of rent, a studio at the lowest end of the scale will go for $352 a month, while a one-bedroom for those at the upper income limits will be offered at $775.
The city’s Redevelopment Agency, investors, foundations, donors and loans are funding the $27.3-million, 51-unit project located at 617 Garden St.
Santa Barbara City Councilmember Helene Schneider said that project is only one of several in the pipeline in the city.
The Housing Authority of Santa Barbara, for example, has a site on Cota Street that will be developed into permanent supportive housing and has just acquired a property on lower Bath Street for similar purposes.
Schneider said leaders are also pursuing a master leasing concept, working with the current housing stock to provide a place to live for homeless people.
As far as local support for the 10-year plan, Schneider said she is optimistic that her colleagues are committed to pushing forward.
“We just need to keep the momentum going and get the thing implemented,” she said.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once the word gets out every homeless person in America is going to be arriving in Santa Barbara looking for housing and handouts. In the meantime the working and professional class will continue to struggle to afford to pay their rent and mortgages and most importantly TAXES in order to afford to live in this resort town.

do the math said...

The brave Anonymous is right!

Instead of spending $50 thousand in housing to end the homelessness of a person, we should spend $150 thousand to treat the same homeless person in unpaid medical care, police coverage, and then jail time.

Anonymous said...

Why am I working so hard - I would be much better off in this town if I was homeless or illegal. I am going to become homeless so I can live in a real house... I now get to pay for houses for the homeless while paying a king's ransom for a mobile home so I can afford to pay the taxes so the homeless can have a house. They need more than a house - chances are they need mental help drug and alcohol addiction help - what is wrong with the Rescue Mission? Not good enough for them I guess. I can't wait to see the condition of the houses we buy for them after a few years of no maintenance.. something like the projects I guess. and there are the usual suspects Das, Helene, Marty signing on with glee as they continue to rob from the middle class to give to the poor, as yet another conman breezes through town with an open wallet.

Anonymous said...

Why am I working so hard - I would be much better off in this town if I was homeless or illegal. I am going to become homeless so I can live in a real house... I now get to pay for houses for the homeless while paying a king's ransom for a mobile home so I can afford to pay the taxes so the homeless can have a house. They need more than a house - chances are they need mental help drug and alcohol addiction help - what is wrong with the Rescue Mission? Not good enough for them I guess. I can't wait to see the condition of the houses we buy for them after a few years of no maintenance.. something like the projects I guess. and there are the usual suspects Das, Helene, Marty signing on with glee as they continue to rob from the middle class to give to the poor, as yet another conman breezes through town with an open wallet.