The consolidation of Santa Barbara’s homeless outreach groups into one new organization was discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors Meeting. Under the new plan, Bringing our Community Home (BOCH), Common Ground Santa Barbara, and the county’s Homeless Advisory Committees would combine efforts to better serve the needs of Santa Barbara County’s homeless residents.
Concerns about the efficiency of the current model of collaboration were cited as a major reason for the new restructuring plan. County officials hope that consolidating the agencies will streamline outreach services and increase communication between organizations. The County CEO’s office will research issues such as the cost difference between housing someone in jail or community housing.
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr lauded the efforts that have been made to this point, but highlighted the importance of using resources effectively. “I do think again that we’re spending a lot of time, energy, resources, and money on this issue and we just want to make sure it’s focused in the best way possible to serve this population.”
The new plan would have committees focused on policy-making, coordination, implementation and evaluation. At the center is what Farr referred to as an “air traffic controller;” that is, a full-time staff person who would serve as a liaison between the different committees. The “controller” would interact with all arms of the new organization to make sure they are on the same page. Supervisor Lavagnino supported the idea of a coordinator, saying of the current model of outreach is “like an octopus [with] all these arms out there trying to bring services to the homeless, but we don’t have that head in the middle. I think this is something that’s been long overdue.”
The plan received unanimous praise from community members and outreach workers during public comment. Rob Fredericks, director of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara and a leader of Common Ground Santa Barbara, spoke about the data gleaned from last year’s Common Ground survey and the importance of implementing the new structure. “Now that we have this information, our group began looking at our current delivery system of housing and services,” he said. “We realized at the outset that we needed a different structure if we were going to make a demonstrable difference.”
Rolf Greyling, director of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission who sits on the South Coast Homeless Advisory Committeesaid that no one agency can confront the issue alone. He noted that communities that have been successful in responding to homeless issues have been those that structured their resources properly. “Studies have shown that for somebody to move from the margins out of homelessness and back into the community it really takes the collaboration of seven
Supervisor Janet Wolf said she believed the new organization was a good idea in theory, but warned the Board that the financial impact needed to be evaluated before any final decision was made. She reminded the board that the recently approved budget had seen cuts of nearly $10 million, part of which was to some homeless outreach efforts. She stressed the need for efficiency within organizations already in place, “We’ve got some systems in place and I just want to make sure that we don’t tear those systems apart and then increase the homeless problem in the community, so what I hope that we do is that we retain some of these vital services . . . and that we also look for efficiencies within our departments.”
Rather than approving the measure outright, the board instead voted to allow the CEO to come to them with details relating to cost and financial impact before they make their final decision. With widespread support from outreach groups, community members, and city officials, cost may be the only thing standing in the way of final approval for the measure.