Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

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The four-month plan at the Rose Garden Inn ― expected to cost the city between $1.6 million to $2 million ― would provide emergency lodging, food, transportation, and services for as many as 50 people now living on the streets. | Credit: Courtesy
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This story was originally published by the Santa Barbara Independent and is reproduced here in partnership with Edhat.


By Nick Welsh of The Independent

Jeff Shaffer has spent the better part of the last 20 years pushing boulders uphill. Sometimes, they’ve chased him back down again. 

In various organizational and spiritual incarnations, Shaffer has emerged as the closest thing to a homeless whisperer that the South Coast has. It’s not nearly enough to find housing for those without homes, he’s discovered. Even more care must be taken to ensure that those used to sleeping on the streets can adjust to sleeping between sheets. It’s a formidable task. Not surprisingly, he’s learned to calibrate his enthusiasm with care and precision. 

Yet now — as Santa Barbara’s delicate ecosystem of tolerance where the homeless are concerned is experiencing yet another quantum shift — Shaffer is uncharacteristically optimistic. “The universe is on our side,” he said at the tail end of a short interview this Friday. A former class clown, Shaffer had once harbored ambitions of becoming a professional comedy writer. Even he had to laugh at how improbable that statement sounded.

As is always the case when the issue is homelessness, the picture is very complicated and very contradictory. This week, Governor Gavin Newsom lifted the state’s emergency restrictions on COVID. This, in turn, freed up local governments to take whatever steps they deemed desirable or necessary to deal with the proliferation of homeless encampments — both in plain sight or off the beaten path. During the prior 18 months, their hands had been tied by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued strong recommendations that homeless camps were to be left alone because of public health considerations.

Santa Barbara’s City Hall responded to the shift by launching a muted crackdown on homeless encampments, particularly those located in what are deemed fire prone areas. Last Friday, city police notified the growing number of tent dwellers that have been occupying Alameda Park that they needed to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. Exactly where they might go, not even Shaffer pretended to have a clue.  

More than that, this week saw the launch of a joint enforcement action by the Santa Barbara Police Department, the city’s Environmental Services Division, Amtrak police, and Union Pacific police, who targeted encampments along the railroad tracks running from Castillo Street to Channel Drive. When they were done, 15 citations were issued — mostly for trespassing but a few for narcotics violations as well. 

According to a press statement issued by the Police Department, all the urban campers the officers encountered “complied with the Officers and packed up their belongings and left.” In addition, the statement read, “Backhoes were used to collect nearly 5,500 pounds of remaining trash and debris.” Multiple trailers were required to haul it all away.


The view of the Loma Fire from the Ortega Street footbridge around 10:15 p.m. on May 20. | Credit: Tayden Tomblin

Far more dramatic, this coming Tuesday the City Council will likely approve plans to lease for the next four months all 32 rooms of the Rose Garden Inn on upper State Street to provide emergency lodging, food, transportation, and services for as many as 50 people now living on the streets. Driving this emergency action — which is budgeted to cost City Hall between $1.6 million to $2 million — is a well-founded fire phobia as Santa Barbara’s drought-desiccated brush is reportedly two months ahead of schedule when it comes to being parched and dried out. 

Sparking the action was the Loma Fire six weeks ago that might have taken out much of the Mesa but for the miraculous and instantaneous intervention by no less than four fire agencies who managed to get the upper hand on a blaze fueled by 55 mile an hour winds. That fire, it should be noted, did not start at a homeless encampment. It was an arson fire, reportedly set by a homeless person on methamphetamine at the time. But in the month of May, city firefighters report, 18 smaller fires originated in homeless encampments. 

The Rose Garden Inn, according to persistent but officially unconfirmed reports, enjoys a reputation as a flea bag. Yelp reviews have been scathing in the extreme and include references to dirty soap bars in the bathroom, lukewarm water in the showers, chipped paint, no towels, and loud guests dumpster diving for their dinners. Each such review is typically followed by an apology by the motel management that the accommodations did not meet guests’ expectations and that they will endeavor to do better. The good news is that the room rates are cheap by Santa Barbara standards, about $109 a night.

All that, it would seem, makes this proposed site an ideal location, however perversely. For starters, neighbors will experience no jarring change of clientele. If anything, it will be better managed. CityNet, which is securing the master lease with city funds, will spend $181,000 on “24/7 guard coverage,” not to mention a shuttle driver to transport guests to and fro. 

The actual cost for the motel rooms — accompanied by computer stations, a bed bug hot box, chairs, and picnic tables — is budgeted at $677,000. Food and laundry is another $282,000. As for management, that’s budgeted at $455,000. That includes case management and a host of “wrap-around services” said to include mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and the help needed to prepare the guests’ papers and documents, like driver licenses, Social Security cards, and Medicare records.

All that, the council has been told, is necessary to help get people who’ve grown used to living a feral lifestyle equipped to make the leap to permanent or transitional housing. None of that, however, is cheap. With all these bells and whistles, the nightly cost per guest will jump from $109 to $266. But compared to the political blowback that Plan B would engender — creating a tent city at the commuter parking lot by Castillo and Carrillo streets ― it’s cheap. More than that, it’s doable. 

Based on City Hall’s predictions, the Rose Garden Inn meets the estimated needs. According to Fire Marshal Joe Poire, there are roughly 50 individuals now living in the most fire-prone camps. Six of these camps have already been targeted for “abatement,” a bureaucratically gentler term than eradication and elimination. 

Joe Doherty, a civil rights attorney with the People’s Justice Project, worries about the number of unanswered questions that remain. How will people living in the urban brush be notified that they are dwelling in “fire prone” encampments, he asked? How will they learn where they can and cannot live? Are there maps? What rules must they abide by? Who will track who gets evicted and for what reasons? Will residents at the motel be free to come and go? If not, will they be under the effective equivalent of house arrest? And what happens to the tents, sleeping bags, and other personal belongings of the guests?

All this is happening under the unspoken rules governing how Santa Barbara’s housed populations co-exist with its unhoused. With the lifting of the pandemic’s emergency restrictions, more people are coming downtown. More people are interacting with the homeless. More homeless are interacting with them. A 60-year-old homeless man and a long-term veteran of Santa Barbara’s streets recently found himself rousted from a public sleeping spot he’d come to enjoy during the pandemic. When told he had to go, he got upset and pulled out a pair of scissors. Cops got called. No one got hurt, but it took a while for things to settle down. 

As the parks are cleared and the encampments too, it’s doubtful the 50 motel rooms will be enough to accommodate those dispersed. The good news, according to Jeff Shaffer is that thanks to a dramatic influx of federal and state funds for homeless housing assistance, there will be far more housing vouchers available for those making the transition from the streets. 

For the past 10 years, Shaffer and his organization have run what’s now called a “neighborhood navigation center” every Thursday at Alameda Park that provides a wide range of services — food, medical care, pet care, portable showers, and the reliable expectation of companionship under safe conditions. During COVID, those Thursday evening gatherings still took place, but under greater circumscribed conditions. People stood in line for food; they didn’t eat together. Social distancing was observed. This past Thursday — one day before the police cleared the tents out of the park — Shaffer expressed relief people could eat together for the first time. “We got to sit down for an actual meal,” he exclaimed. Forty-four guests, he said, showed up; 25 volunteers did too. 

Shaffer is hoping to establish such centers throughout the entire city so that no one neighborhood has reason to feel it’s absorbing the brunt of what’s clearly a national and statewide problem. At such centers, he contends, trust can be established between those who mean well and those who have learned the hard way that meaning well is not enough. It is through such interactions, repeated week after week, that people on the street learn to take the first step to something different, he said.

Shaffer is one of the cofounders of SBACT, a relatively recent organizational acronym to emerge in Santa Barbara’s age-old struggle with homelessness, and SBACT (S.B. Alliance for Community Transformation) has emerged as a de facto extension of City Hall, one of the organization’s key financial benefactors. Two weeks ago, the council voted to give SBACT $150,000 to start a new neighborhood navigation center at the parking lot by Castillo and Carrillo. That will fund an ongoing operation one day a week for three hours a day. 

Given how vociferously residents living near that commuter lot have recoiled against previous efforts to create a “tiny home” homeless village there, Shaffer knows he’s treading on thin ice. Before launching any new program on the site, he stressed, he’d be meeting with the neighbors to hear their concerns and presumably to address them as well.  

As Santa Barbara returns to so-called “normal,” the downtown library will reopen to the public. When that happens, many people who have long lived out-of-doors will seek refuge in the library’s stacks, as they have done before. In anticipation of the friction that will likely ensue, the City Council voted to spend $100,000 to hire a social worker to address the needs of the homeless bibliophiles eager to reoccupy their old digs. 

In the meantime, Shaffer noted, a private nonprofit known as Dignity Moves — made up of members who became CEOs of their respective business operations by the time they turned 40 — is moving ahead with plans to open a new homeless village of 30 to 35 tiny homes on government-owned property located on Garden Street. 

In this case, Shaffer said, the tiny homes are being designed by a well-known architect and will fit into Santa Barbara’s red-tiled architectural tradition. More to the point, he added, they will provide transitional housing for people getting off the street for as long as three years. Shaffer said the new units might be operational sometime this fall, maybe as soon as October. 

As all this happens, the council — bombarded by business leaders complaining about out-of-control homeless behavior ― has also been moving in the other direction. Two weeks ago, for example, the council passed an ordinance prohibiting anyone from sitting or lying on certain blocks of Milpas Street. Although the law applies to all residents, it’s clearly aimed at the homeless. This measure mirrors a similar ordinance the council passed to restrict such behavior on State Street. Or the one the council passed to rein in the use of shopping carts.

For Shaffer, it’s been a long-distance sprint with no real finish line. But at the moment, there’s more wind at his back than in his face. “The universe,” he chuckled again, “is on our side.”

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ZeroHawk Jun 29, 2021 09:03 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Folks...some of you should be ashamed of yourselves. The talking points by some are strong, but many of you are just complaining for the sake of complaining. Where is your empathy? Where is your sense of community? Are you so far above the rest that you must look down at those with less, or those with problems that can't seem to find the right help? Does that make you better than them? It certainly does not. Even the post breaking down reasons for being homeless. I can tell you, that myself and many of us are one paycheck away from being on the street. That is how it is in Santa Barbara. I know homeless people. These are folks I grew up with that had one bad hand after another. Even the trust fund hope ranch kids I know, a few are homeless. To instantly say drugs and alcohol led to it, simply shows you have no sense of reality nor have you "been there". I have. Let me tell you, it is the worst feeling to not know where you will sleep night after night, how you will eat, shower and even basic human functions such as going to the toilet. The feeling of hopelessness and sadness overwhelms you THEN you start hitting the bottle or other sources of escape from the pain that is now your life. Those people are brothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, moms, sisters to others but you feel it's ok to label them, judge them and blame them for everything that goes wrong. I saw someone mention Megan's Law. Do you know that there are many predators living in homes in downtown residential neighborhoods? Also a registered sex offender rule/thing is broken. Urinating in public isn't a sex crime and whomever thought it was is just gross if you're into that. Be kind, help your fellow Santa Barbarans rather than judge and assume.

biguglystick Jun 29, 2021 12:59 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

ZEROHAWK! Bravo! I couldn't have said it any better. Thank you. I cannot believe some of the cold hearted nasty replies from entitled members of our community. No one likes to see the homeless encampments that have gotten out of control lately, but it's a symptom of a much larger problem in our community! We've got a massive housing crisis. Normal middle class people cannot afford to buy a home in Santa Barbara anymore, and thus are being displaced to have to move out of town to make way for the uber wealthy, who are taking over. So many of us are a paycheck away from being on the streets. I have been for years, even though I am a very hard worker. My family wasn't wealthy, neither am I. Extreme wealth, house flipping, the Hollywood elite and STRs have RUINED our little town!!!

sacjon Jun 29, 2021 09:47 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

ZEROHAWK - Standing ovation. Well said, absolutely. Key word is "empathy." It's the same people here complaining about having to "help" in any way, that also complain about the BLM movement, shrieking "ALL lives matter," or complain about Sambos or Pride week or any thing that focuses on the plight of those different from themselves. Are they hateful? Some. But many are just incapable or simply unwilling to try a little empathy and think about how people other than them might be existing and what their lives might be like. It's truly sickening how many flat out refuse to take 5 minutes to think about someone else's life experience and how it might be different from their own. Once you do that, it makes you not just a better person, but a kinder person. People here need to try that.

Danny Murphy Jun 29, 2021 09:30 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Thank you, @ZeroHawk, for conveying your humanity to the rest of us in a persuasively concrete and visceral way. Keep going. You have a better ability to convince the currently callous among us not just of their blinders and moral shortcomings hurting us all, homeless or not, but also that life is capricious...anyone of us could find ourselves homeless at some point in life.

Danny Murphy Jun 29, 2021 08:56 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

I'll be a new Santa Barbara resident soon and wish to comment on the contrast between the thoughtfulness of this article and the lack of thoughtfulness in some of these comments. I chose to live in this community for the rest of my life, not just for its human scale, natural beauty, and historical preservation, but also for the City's respect for the human condition. Some of the commenters complain about the cost of helping the homeless live lives integrated in the life of the community. EXPENSE? Didn't the horrors of past institutionalization come at great financial expense as well as at horrible moral cost? LOCATION: Do wealthier members of the community deserve, solely by their wealth, less exposure to the human condition? UN-DESERVING? Engagement through services is intended to reduce homelessness by identifying and assisting those folks with an ability to be independent. We all have a natural responsibility to everyone in our community. And each of us, housed or not, to the level of our respective ability, have a responsibility back to the community. How is my view incorrect?

Byzantium Jun 29, 2021 09:06 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Danny, If you are new to Santa Barbara, you better take an instant crash course on what this city has already provided, and has long provided, in the way of public, private and non profit subsidized and supportive housing. Now well over 20% of all housing units have some form of subsidy or price fixing. We have reached the end of the natural limits and this long-standing public generosity, which has now turned on us and caused our community to sicken and die.

proletariat Jun 29, 2021 08:51 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

What's more drastic, allowing people to live on the streets in hazardous conditions (to themselves and the community) or affording them some dignity and security by housing them?

Alexblue Jun 29, 2021 10:36 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Okay Byzantium, I'll bite--what's your answer to the problem?

IMO, you have to hit this issue from all sides, i.e., wipe out the camps, heavily enforce on the streets so that citizens and businesses can go about their lives and functions--basically make it as difficult as possible for people to continue living on the street with addictions, violence, and crime.

AND AT THE SAME TIME you have to flood the issue with money for housing, mental health drug and alcohol treatment, reintroduction to the rules and expectations of society and yes job training.

But this needs to happen on a state wide level or we will have an endless supply of homeless people coming here to take advantage of what we offer.

Byzantium Jun 29, 2021 09:10 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Prol, that is the question these people need to ask themselves, when alternate housing they can afford is available all over this state, but not here in a premium, high cost, limited supply area. It is no longer our responsibility any longer to provide free housing and support to everyone who choose to come here with no means of support, but with plenty of social problems. You have your priorities totally upside down. Homeless Inc is obviously on a roll today with the sole intent of protecting their own cash flow and jobs. . Not working. Game's over.

Byzantium Jun 29, 2021 08:46 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

The long nightmare will soon be over. A brand new city council majority in November will stop asking "where will they go"; and will start asking --why are they coming? 20 years of city council mismanagement have incentivized transients and vagrancy that has overtaken this community. 2021 is the year this will stop.

biguglystick Jun 29, 2021 01:04 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

They are coming for the weather and the ease of life here. Many places to hide in the bushes and camp. Word is OUT. It's NOT going to stop either, there is a massive crippling housing crisis all over the nation and the homeless are only going to grow unless we get a handle on how to make housing... ownership and attainment, available to anyone who works hard and wants to, NOT JUST THE WEALTHY or investment companies or flippers.

Cabomark Jun 29, 2021 07:39 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Vote them out now ! It's time for a new City Counsel & Mayor who address their tax paying constituents concerns.

This is a pea-brained band-aid which doesn't address the problem. But what it does is bring additional vagrants to the upper State St "resort". What is your plan when this motel is full of vagrants...? Where is your next brilliant location ? Paseo Nuevo ? This re-location plan just expands the problem from one part of the city to another

a-1624939014 Jun 28, 2021 08:56 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Folks in the City, such as the churches, commendably used to open their meeting halls for the unhoused to sleep and have a hot meal during infrequent cold snaps and rain. Now the City is putting up the unhoused during.... Fire Season. June July August Sept October. Air conditioning included? This is going way beyond humanitarian into the realm of bizarre.

Bird Jun 28, 2021 08:01 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

I hope that none of the negative commenters here have loved family members who fall on hard times, and you take them in and then get shunned by neighbors, ...well, reading these comments I'd guess none of the commenters WOULD help even their family member. And maybe they should feel how it is to be despised.

These edhat comments and others of their ilk are eye-opening about fellow Santa Barbarans. I live on the east side and we here have housed a lot of those needing and the world has not come to an end. The Quarantina underpass is a homeless site but because councilmember A. Gutierrez lives near the Cacique underpass, that was cleared of homeless. It's about time that other areas of Santa Barbara provide the needed services as well as those of us on the east side. And time to recognize that better housing than the street will encourage the majority of those helped, say studies, to move on to permanent housing while just leaving people on the streets condemns them to panhandling and sickness.

biguglystick Jun 29, 2021 12:54 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Thank you, Bird, for showing some compassion where so many others aren't. I am with you. God forbid any of us should fall into such bad circumstances. It's so expensive here, it can happen to even the best of us with one health tragedy or accident or...

Roger Jun 29, 2021 06:41 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

I spent several years on the streets as a juvenile then after having meningitis no one would hire me because my brain was damaged. I unloaded trucks and dug ditches under mim. wage. I slept in card board boxes in the rain and under bridges and ate out of the trash and almost died eating poison. I had a very hard young life I know what hard times are. I remember when part of the downtown area got flooded people were hiring others for 10.00 an hour to dig peoples homes out. I saw a guy panhandling downtown "Will work for money" his sign said. I told him I could set him up with work right then and there he told me to "Go to hell" he got more begging for m,oney...Wow. I have known others made 120.00 an hour panhanding 20 years ago so I know they get bank now some of those panhandlers are part of homeless Inc. Con's through and through.

a-1624931759 Jun 28, 2021 06:55 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

If a particular homeless encampment has a fire, I want to see that encampment obliterated. No camping of any kind there for years. Give extra funding to police to get this done.

a-1624986207 Jun 29, 2021 10:03 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

I’m in favor of obliterating the camp, not the campers. They need to be moved; how and where is the big issue, of course. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but getting rid of the fire-producing encampments has to be a priority.

biguglystick Jun 29, 2021 01:08 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Yep! This is Capitalism run amok, NOT liberals. Capitalism allowed for the current housing crisis. Everything is about flip, flip, buy, own, more, More... MORE, MORE! Investment companies grabbing up large swaths of homes and gobbling them down to make a profit. GOUGING rents and unaffordable homes. Those heinous "I buy houses for cash" signs who destroy and ruin neighborhoods. Middle class squeezed right the hell out of Santa Barbara! This is Capitalism gone wrong. WAY wrong. Greed has won.

biguglystick Jun 29, 2021 01:08 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Yep! This is Capitalism run amok, NOT liberals. Capitalism allowed for the current housing crisis. Everything is about flip, flip, buy, own, more, More... MORE, MORE! Investment companies grabbing up large swaths of homes and gobbling them down to make a profit. GOUGING rents and unaffordable homes. Those heinous "I buy houses for cash" signs who destroy and ruin neighborhoods. Middle class squeezed right the hell out of Santa Barbara! This is Capitalism gone wrong. WAY wrong. Greed has won.

dukemunson Jun 29, 2021 01:05 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Generaltree - It's more the confluence of the opiod crisis with insanity on both the left and right. In spite of it all we're actually doing quite well...and capitalism has served us a country incredibly well!

PitMix Jun 29, 2021 10:01 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

This is by definition the richest country ever in the history of the world spending a tiny amount of its resources on helping the less fortunate among us. I hate that our National Representatives make local government bear the financial burden, but 100% support the effort.

chico berkeley Jun 28, 2021 06:13 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Who wants to bet on the hotel burning down soon as they do that I say make cuyama great again send them over there and we can build a place for those kind of numbers 10000 per person per month yikes

TheKid5 Jun 28, 2021 05:05 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

To the Santa Barbara City Council:

Homeless housing that will cost $10,000 per person, per month?

Is this how our local hard working people want you to spend their tax money?

If I am more proficient in math than over 50% of our local school children, then this brilliant plan will cost local taxpayers $40,000, per person for four months; $10,000 per person, per month for housing only 50 people out of the hundreds of homeless we have here.

Have you even thought about asking those homeless who can work, to earn money for their food, shelter and clothing?

The City Council can provide ocean going luxury 1/2 the cost of this plan:
The cruise industry is trying to recover and month long cruises are available for $5,000 per person, or less. Why put these homeless people up in a crummy motel when our City Council can provide them with cruising luxury for 1/2 the cost?

The council can either save 1/2 of what they intend to spend on 50 homeless people or go large and give a 34-day cruise each month to 100 homeless people instead.

Just one of many cruises that are available-34 nights for under $5,000 per person:
Princess Cruises, Diamond Princess
Diamond Princess Cruise Ship34 Nights Antarctica, Andes & Cape Horn Grand Adventure from $4697 pp 34 Night - Antarctica, Andes & Cape Horn Grand Adventure - Los Angeles to Buenos Aires aboard Diamond Princess - Starting in Los Angeles with stops in Puntarenas, Manta, Callao, General San Martin, Coquimbo, San Antonio, Punta Arenas, Tierra Del Fuego, Cape Horn - Scenic Cruising, Antarctic Peninsula - Scenic Cruising, Stanley, Montevideo, Buenos Aires
2021 Sails: Dec 1

What happens to these 50 people when their motel stay is over in four months?

If this plan is put into effect, then every member of the Santa Barbara City Council should be recalled.

Roger Jun 28, 2021 07:17 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

What is wrong with the rescue mission? They have a good strong program there that helps more than hinders this whole situation. They have been here along time too their beans and rice a thousand times better than any of this towns so called gourmet food because it is cooked with love.

TheKid5 Jun 28, 2021 06:37 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Thank you! It was sent to the council. If passed by the council, it will be paid for by hard working local taxpayers. Cost will be $40,000 to house each one of the 50 homeless people for four months. This amounts to $10,000 per month, per person, housed in a crummy motel!
$2,000,000! Madness!

a-1624929183 Jun 28, 2021 06:13 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Well done . You should actually send that to the council . They don’t read Edhat . This is Eric’s neighborhood . Who makes these decisions ? Is it the council or is it CityNet ?

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