Thursday, June 18, 2009

Efforts fighting homelessness show promise : Advocates say 344 people have been placed

June 18, 2009 11:50 AM

Five hundred in five years. That was the number of homeless people that Bringing our Community Home hoped to place in permanent housing in 2007 when the organization launched its 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Santa Barbara. After two years, advocates have already placed 344 and are optimistic about achieving their goal.

BOCH held a press conference Wednesday at Transition House, 434 E. Ortega St., to detail its progress since the program was launched in 2007.

The BOCH Governing Board is encouraged by the increased cooperation among homeless advocates.

"The best thing that's happened is more partnerships, more planning," said John Buttny, BOCH Executive Director. "The community of those working with the homeless is more cohesive."

Santa Barbara Councilwoman Helene Schneider agreed.

"There were so many people doing this kind of work who didn't know each other," she said. "A homeless person might work with six or seven people, but if they don't know each other, they aren't helping him."

Steve Paro, a Vietnam veteran who was without a home for three years, has been living in the Victoria Hotel downtown for six months thanks to the efforts of BOCH.

"It's nice to sleep without getting wet," said Mr. Paro. "It's been a definite improvement, and I'm quite pleased."

According to Jeanette Duncan of People's Self-Help Housing, the project began with an estimated 900 chronically homeless in Santa Barbara in 2007. The current estimate is 1,000, including those 344 who have been placed.

"The economy is having an impact," said Ms. Duncan. "We've had many renters show up needing a place to stay because of foreclosures."

The project has made it a goal to solidify rights and dignity for the homeless.

Kathleen Baushke of Transition House expressed concern over the belief by some that homelessness is sometimes a choice.

"I have never met someone who was presented with an option and chose to lose their home," she said. "The difference between those of us who aren't homeless and those who are is that we have been able to access a safety net that the country is not providing for them."

Ms. Schneider said that homelessness is an "issue of life and death."

"Eighteen people already died on the street this year. Eighteen total people died on the street in 2008," she said, though she was uncertain of the reason for this concentration of deaths.

"The homeless have a right not to be assaulted," said Ms. Schneider. "They have a right not to be murdered."

"The homeless are a vulnerable population for crimes," said Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy Sheriff Geoff Banks. "They are difficult crimes to investigate and prosecute."

According to Mr. Buttny, a current concern of the program is the safety of homeless women, and BOCH is working to ensure that women are not turned away from shelters after hours.

"This already happens informally," said Mr. Buttny. "But we want to get something in place officially."

Although coordination has increased during the past two years, there is still work to be done, according to Tom Thomas, a business leader on the BOCH Governing Board.

"We need to get involved in record keeping," said Mr. Thomas. "Individual agencies do it, but the county doesn't yet."

County 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr agreed with Mr. Thomas that progress has yet to be made.

"I believe it is my job to facilitate partnerships with the county going forward," she said.

Deputy Sheriff Banks expressed concern for jailed homeless individuals who are released with nowhere to go.

"It's not a pleasant thing to not be able to solve somebody's problem," he said.

Deputy Sheriff Banks estimated that 10 percent of the jailed population is homeless.

Other concerns mentioned by press conference attendees included detox facilities for those without Medicare and the inclusion of the homeless population in the process of ending chronic homelessness.

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