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Santa Barbara City Council discusses homelessness, calls on county for more support

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse said the council should "get in the county's grill" about better supporting South County efforts to curb homelessness.
Santa Barbara City Council
Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse said the council should "get in the county's grill" about better supporting South County efforts to curb homelessness.

The release of preliminary data from Santa Barbara County’s Point-in-Time Count of people experiencing homelessness in the county has renewed focus on issues like housing and mental health there.

The Santa Barbara City Council met Tuesday to discuss the data and ways to address homelessness in the city, including calling on the county for more support.

The in-person council meeting, the first of its kind since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, featured updates from city staff and representatives from other agencies.

Preliminary results from the county’s Point-in-Time count showed a 3.4 percent increase in the amount of people experiencing homelessness there since 2020. The 2021 count was skipped due to COVID-19 concerns.

Elizabeth Stotts, the city’s senior community development program specialist, told the council that county staff and volunteers counted 1,962 people experiencing homelessness in 2022, and that 822 of those were in the City of Santa Barbara alone. That’s 41 percent of the countywide population experiencing homelessness.

California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency

Stotts also said that based on official numbers the county has sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)in the past, these current numbers are likely an undercount.

“The county has reported to HUD that the number of persons served in fiscal year 2021 was 1.7 times higher than the Point-in-Time Count, suggesting that the numbers are higher than we expect,” Stotts said.

Several councilmembers expressed frustration with the South County area’s lack of a solutions court, where the county negotiates with people experiencing homelessness who have committed crimes to accept social services or do community service. District 5 Councilmember Eric Friedman proposed sending a letter to the county asking for a solutions court in South County similar to the one in North County.

“[It would express] the city’s support for the implementation of the South County solutions court. I would like to send that letter and get that out as soon as possible,” Friedman said.

Councilmember Kristen Sneddon of District 4 echoed that call for the county to do more and create a solutions court for the South County cities.

“I also agree that it’s unacceptable that it could be such a successful program in North County and we can hear how successful it is, but we don’t get it here. That just doesn’t seem like an even disbursement of county funds at all,” Sneddon said.

Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is meeting this week on a series of budget workshops. Their next regular meeting will be on April 19.

The county’s final report with more analysis from the Point-in-Time Count will be released May 5.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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