Fearing for the worst, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved funding earlier this week for a new day shelter pilot program designed to provide housing for the most vulnerable when severe weather may occur.
“Given the weather predictions and what we know about our homeless population, there’s an urgent need to extend the current warming center program,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
The new pilot program hopes to give the most vulnerable a place to stay between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., which is typically the times the current warming centers are closed. Each activation is anticipated to draw between 50 and 150 people.
“The reason we’re looking at this is because all of the shelters that we already have are packed,” said 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr. “They’re overflowing and there’s a waiting list.”
The pilot program is estimated to cost $91,000, which will pay for up to 35 day activations.
“In many ways, I think that this money provides a type of life insurance policy for the over 1,400 people in our community that don’t have a place to live,” Farr said.
So far, Farr’s staff has identified two potential locations for the day shelters. The first is likely to be the Minami Community Center at 600 W. Enos Drive in Santa Maria. The other is the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.
Activations will only occur if a daytime temperature of 35 degrees or less is predicted or if there is a greater than a 50-percent chance of rain predicted for one day.
Each facility is expected to cost the county between $400 and $800 per day, and trained staff making between $14 and $17 per hour are expected to run operations.
In related action, the supervisors also approved $37,000 in additional funding for the current Freedom Warming Centers, which have seen a spike in activations. The $37,000 will pay for an additional 15 night activations.
“I’m not going to argue with this, but we just have to understand that at some point, enough is enough,” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam. “We already put a lot of money into social services and public health, mental health and some of it is directed badly, we know that.”
Adam also noted that the current El Nino hasn’t brought the type of rain forecasters have predicted.
“This El Nino phenomenon has been a little lackluster as far as actual rain days,” Adam said. “I think what we’ve experienced is a little bit overblown so hopefully we have something to show for it at the end of this El Nino.”
North County has two regular warming centers. In Santa Maria, those without homes can visit the Salvation Army at 200 W. Cook St. In Lompoc, they can visit the Peace Lutheran Church, 1000 W. Ocean Blvd. South County has three locations, which are located in Isla Vista, Santa Barbra and Carpinteria. For more information, call 324-2372.
Kenny Lindberg covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter.
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