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Seeking Hope in a Budgetary Storm
updated: Sep 14, 2013, 4:00 PM
By Alex Kacik
Service with a smile: A volunteer dishes up a hot lunch. (Alex Kacik)
Mark's right hand shakes as he picks at his salad, potatoes, rice and chicken. It's tough for him to
stomach the meal as he fights through alcohol withdrawals. Mark says he had trouble sleeping last night
at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, a nearby emergency shelter-shaking, sweating, tossing and
turning interrupted his nightmares.
"I'm detoxing right now. I'm trying to get in a program at The Salvation Army," says Mark over the
sound of music as a homeless man plays an old, wooden piano tucked away in the back corner of Casa
Esperanza's cafeteria. Mark, who asked that his last name not be used, has short black hair and black
"I'm tired of beating myself up," he says.
Mark joins about 120 people who came to Casa Esperanza's Community Kitchen on Tuesday afternoons
like today to get a hot meal and sit at tables decorated with flowers and pitchers of water. The loud hum
of chatter, clanging trays and silverware soon drowns out the piano music. Volunteers from The Paskin
Group, a real estate firm in Santa Barbara, are serving free lunches to a room that is mostly full of men,
some bound to wheelchairs or walkers. There are several twentysomethings here adorned with tattoos
and unkempt beards, as well as a handful of women. Some folks here are day laborers grabbing free
lunch and others are among the most hardened of the homeless population.
Casa Esperanza is a nonprofit, non-denominational shelter at 816 Cacique St. that offers 100 beds
during the non-winter months and 200 beds from December through March. The shelter also provides
food, clothing, showers, medical care, job development, life coaching and substance-abuse recovery
programs through its day center and kitchen. These programs are offered to residents and drop-ins
Hopeful facade: Casa Esperanza seeks community support to stay open. (Alex Kacik)
That is likely to change on September 17. In its efforts to provide a sort of one-stop shop of services
aimed at transitioning from the streets into housing, Casa Esperanza has taken on around $2 million in
debt, according to Executive Director Mike Foley. Foley says the shelter can't sustain all of its services
given the current level of public and private support.
"We've been operating beyond our means," Foley says. "We've been trying to deal with 1,300 intakes,
the number of people we have and the issues that they have without the funding that we need to do it. It
was very difficult to make those decisions at the height of the recession when the need was so great. We
did make up those differences with borrowings. The thing is, that's just not sustainable."
The day center will be shut down and the kitchen will be suspended next week. Combined, these
programs cost more than $611,000 per year. Casa Esperanza's budget will shrink from $2.3 million a
year to $1.6 million once it cuts the drop-in and kitchen services, lays off eight personnel and the
remaining staff takes pay cuts. The shelter will continue to feed people staying in its 24-hour residential
shelter and medical beds, which are reserved by Cottage Hospital for recuperating homeless patients.
"There's an overall consensus that the shelter component is the most important thing to provide-that
making sure people are going from homelessness to housing meets the mission of the organization and
the overall mission of the community," Foley says. "So that becomes the intense focus, to raise money to
make the shelter program the best it can be."
Many are concerned that less access to drop-in services and meals will translate to more loitering,
panhandling, theft and put stress on an overburdened health care system. Rolf Geyling, president of the
Rescue Mission, says he has seen more people use the Rescue Mission's showers and dinner service.
The Rescue Mission doesn't usually offer drop-in care services and focuses more on overnight shelter
and 12-month rehabilitation programs.
A potential gap in systemic care for Santa Barbara's homeless population looms on the horizon with the
shuttering of Casa Espernanza's day center, which had the infrastructure in one place to refer a
spectrum of services. The day center had about 349,000 visits over the past five years.
"The day center serves as a launching ramp to get people connected to services," Geyling says. "To have
a place that's aware of the different programs and network into them…That could be a big gap."
Casa Esperanza's cutbacks may also put additional stress on the area's warming centers-repurposed
spaces providing cots and blankets during inclement weather. The warming centers function as a safe
haven for homeless people when other shelters are full. More people have been using warming centers
every year and although the number of centers has increased, nearly every one of them was at capacity
last year, says homeless advocate Julia Hamilton, who is the associate minister at the Unitarian Society
of Santa Barbara.
"We don't know how many people who used the day center ended up at the warming center that night,
so there's a lot of unknowns," she says.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has agreed to fund and offer medical treatment
three days a week at Casa Esperanza to any homeless people seeking aid. The county services will be
able to treat broken legs, rashes, chronic pain and other health illnesses on site at Casa Esperanza,
which has received more than 18,000 medical visits over the past five years.
Casa Esperanza's Foley hopes that out of the ashes of the discontinued day center and suspended meal
service will come a new coordinated care effort that will operate as an intake and referral point for a
continuum of services from basic health care to mental health, job placement, social services and case
work. Data gathered at the intake center would be entered into Homeless Management Information
Systems that could lead to more people being housed quicker, Foley says.
To read the full article, visit MissionAndState.org
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