I would like to respond to Ron Fink’s recent column.
The Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H) is committed to reducing homelessness and its impacts on communities countywide. We provide collaboration and regional solutions in all of Santa Barbara's major cities.
Most recently we held a community whiteboard session with Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl and dozens of community leaders to learn how to end homelessness in Lompoc. The outcomes from that meeting are charting a new course of collaboration and problem solving.
Homelessness is not an intractable problem. It can be solved. First, get to know each homeless person by name. Second, get to know what they need and want. Third, get them into stable, affordable housing. Finally, provide the appropriate services they need to stay housed, including employment assistance, alcohol and drug treatment, behavioral and physical health treatment, and other support.
Mr. Fink makes some alarming observations. He accurately reports that Lompoc's homeless population count has doubled in recent years. However, he then goes on to assert the reason for this is that homeless people are moving to Lompoc from Santa Barbara and elsewhere. However, there is no evidence of this, other than more people on the streets. In fact, most homeless people surveyed say they have lived in the area where they were surveyed for over a year.
C3H and other organizations have made great strides in the first step to ending homelessness — getting to know people. In fact, we were told by nearly 50 homeless people who have lived in Lompoc for many years they actively avoided being counted in years past. We believe, based on our conversations with the 100 people who attended the care and referral support evening on the night of the Point in Time Count in January, that people are now trusting there might be solutions to homelessness, and many came forward for the first time to be counted.
We believe the reason Santa Barbara has seen a decline in homelessness is that hundreds of homeless people are housed each year by the dozens of organizations in that city working together. This is a vision we are implementing in Lompoc, and with the help of partners like the county Housing Authority, Good Samaritan, Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center, Trinity Church and many more, we will see more homeless people housed in Lompoc in the months to come.
Why are we optimistic? The biggest key to ending homelessness is affordable housing. Lompoc's rents are some of the most affordable in the county. We have already helped five people off the streets in the last few months who are now Lompoc renters. The answer is not handouts, but providing support toward independence.
Finally, people need to confront the myth that people want to live like this. Homelessness is the result of dozens of factors — mental illness, evictions, unemployment, poor job-training programs, alcohol and drug dependencies. It is a symptom of a wide range of social problems and personal circumstances.
Almost no homeless person wants to be homeless. People will reject help and handouts out of pride and say they want to live like this, but persistence, building trusting relationships and finding solutions help people transform their lives.