Temporary housing and assistance program for homeless proves to be success in Santa Barbara County

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, July 14, 2023
Temporary housing for homeless is a success in Santa Barbara County
Small programs and small pieces of land are having a big impact in Santa Barbara County, where a new strategy in helping the homeless is beginning to take off.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (KABC) -- Small programs and small pieces of land are having a big impact in Santa Barbara County, where a new strategy in helping the homeless is beginning to take off.

"When I was underneath that, sleeping under that tree...it was a very lonely, lonely place," said Gerard Pepe, a former resident of Santa Barbara Street Village.

Pepe was one of the 3,500 people every year in Santa Barbara County to experience homelessness. Now, he is a student at Santa Barbara City College with a job and his own apartment. And he credits Dignity Moves with changing his life.

"It give you dignity, it gives you pride, it gives you self-respect and most of all it gives you self-worth," said Pepe.

Dignity Moves is interim supportive housing, not permanent housing, and the Santa Barbara Street Village has 34 units discretely placed next door to an office building on what used to be a county parking lot. It's easy to miss or simply see it as a gated community. Residents live at the site for six to 12 months, connecting them with medical and mental healthcare and job assistance, which makes it more likely they will find their own path out of homelessness.

"We provide the privacy. You can bring your pet. You can do all those things... the meals, but you have to do your part. You have to work with us to create an exit plan and that's been the key to our success," said Jack Lorenz, the regional advancement director for Dignity Moves.

With the site built in nine months for $1.7 million, the hope is to rapidly reduce homelessness in the community by creating a space that fits the needs of that individual community. It won't stand out in this popular tourism site, but will blend in on unused public or private property.

"Do you want homeless encampments where there's no rules? Or do you want temporary housing projects where there's programming, there is help for people and there are rules and you can get kicked out," said Das Williams, a Santa Barbara County Supervisor.

And the county plans to open another facility with the same goal.

A homeless encampment sits adjacent to the county's former juvenile detention center, but while that site is disheveled now, it will soon provide 80 residential units so people living in this area can stay where they feel comfortable.

"As dysfunctional as it seems to you and I, they have community. They don't sleep alone. You'll notice that folks sleep in two or three because they take care of each other, they protect each other. So if we can take that community model that already exists and move it where we can provide services and structure, the success rate is tremendous," said Lorenz.

The housing is temporary for the residents, but also for the site itself. If a landowner eventually has a use for it, Dignity Moves can quickly relocate. Continuing their effort to solve a huge problem one small site at a time.

"This model can work anywhere there's parking lots and there's plenty of parking lots in the state of California," said Williams.