By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
A new era in Santa Barbara County began March 25 when some 45 people gathered under one roof to work toward easing, not necessarily ending, homelessness through a new initiative.
“We’re not in this to end homelessness,” said Eddie Taylor, CEO for the United Way. “But what we can do is put an end to the negative impacts that homelessness has on our local businesses, our communities and our homeless neighbors.”
Santa Barbara County has about 1,450 homeless residents, according to a tally taken in 2017. Approximately 10 percent of those people are considered chronically homeless.
Taylor noted a report that Cisco committed $50 million over five years to help Santa Clara County with homelessness.
“My question to you is this: Is there an organization in Santa Barbara County that we could partner with to identify that could commit $1 million a year for the next five years to help us solve our problems?” Taylor asked.
“When we put together the business leaders task force, we will identify those opportunities, and that’s where the Funders Collaborative can really begin to shine by bringing those partnerships together,” Taylor added.
One Home For Good representative noted that housing five formerly homeless residents, and getting them support services, cost much less than the thousands of dollars in hospital bills and other expenses while those five people lived on the streets. This effort involved a partnership that included Dignity Health, the city of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County and more.
“This shows how that housing-first dynamic really is a win,” said Jeff Shaffer, Home For Good director of community engagement. “It’s a win for multiple players. We save money. We save lives and we need to promote this more and more.”
During the meeting, Chief Pat Walsh of the Lompoc Police Department reviewed plans to evict homeless residents from the Santa Ynez Riverbed in Lompoc, with a goal of getting them connected to services in a coordinated effort.
“This is a wicked problem,” he said. “We all have to figure it out.”
The Funders Collaborative will meet four times a year with the next sessions planned for the third Wednesdays in June and September and the first Wednesday in December.
“I’m very excited about the progress we’re making,’” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said, adding that he heard more positive steps in the first meeting than he had in several years of participating in the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness. “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”