Opinion: Salvation Army Homeless Project at City Review Board
By Anna Marie Gott
Last Monday the Salvation Army held a Community Meeting for Eastside residents to introduce their plan to convert 15 S Alisos Street into a shared 14 bed “Housing First” permanent supportive housing facility . Their goals for the meeting should have been to: introduce themselves and the project, listen to residents, dispel fears and address the neighbors’ concerns by making changes to the project. They should have also addressed the possible need for a conditional use permit (CUP) which would only permit the facility to operate under certain conditions . Instead I believe their only goal was to hold a meeting and say they did so. Why? The project is scheduled to be seen at the Architectural Board of Review today, Monday, October 7th - without any changes or a determination on the need for a CUP.
Any goals the Salvation Army should have had beyond merely holding a meeting were not achieved. Despite a lengthy 23-minute introduction by the Salvation Army, which included a substantial explanation of its guiding philosophy and the model they use of “Prevention, Intervention and Integration”, the organizers failed in every respect to sufficiently explain the project or listen to residents. Residents came to the meeting with questions concerning: the review and approval process, zoning and operational requirements, the need for a CUP, and technical details such as background checks and lease agreements. They left with their key questions unanswered and a growing concern that the Salvation Army, a multi-billion charity, was not listening to them and did not care about how this project would affect them and their neighborhood. They also came away with the feeling that the City, with the exception of their Councilmember, Jason Dominguez, did not care about how this project would affect them.
To say the meeting was utterly mismanaged and poorly run would be an understatement. It was, in my opinion, like watching a car in slow motion take an unexpected turn, careen wildly out of control and then flip repeatedly down a hill until it landed in a mangled burning heap of metal. – In other words, the meeting was nothing short of a giant dumpster fire.
One of the most important things the Salvation Army failed to do was to describe the homeless population they planned to provide housing for. This population was clearly described in a letter of support for the Salvation Army’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) Grant Application, yet the Salvation Army could not artfully or consistently describe the population or explain how they intended to serve them. This left residents angry and confused.
To be clear, the letter submitted by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB) in support of the project, and included in the HEAP Grant Application, stated that:
“Occupants of the proposed units will be selected through Santa Maria/Santa Barbara County's Continuum of Care Coordinated Entry System, and in accordance with the core practices and components of California's Housing First Policy.”
The Housing First Policy is designed to help the hardest-to-serve, chronically homeless population, a substantial number of whom are mentally ill. This population frequently comes directly, or nearly directly, off the streets and they are given permanent housing - “without preconditions or any barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements.”
Once residents fully understood this, their concerns justifiably escalated. Other key aspects of the Salvation Army’s plan failed miserably in describing: the management plan for the facility, which does not include on-site managers but drop in social workers, and the terms of the lease agreements which would help to protect the quality of life of residents if the project is approved.
But perhaps the biggest concern for neighbors was the Salvation Army’s statement that NO CUP would be required. This was stated even though just hours before the meeting George Buell, the City’s Community Development Director, finally acknowledge in writing that no determination had yet been made regarding a CUP. The Salvation Army was informed of this. – This reversal is substantial and comes after almost one month of my demands that the City explain how the project could be excluded from requiring a CUP.
In the end, Councilmember Dominquez, summed up the project, articulated the differences between the proposed project (in a residential area without any on-site 24/7 oversight) and others run by the Salvation Army (in an industrial area with on-sight 24/7 oversight and 1.6 miles from the nearest residential neighborhood) and he strongly suggested that the Salvation Army make substantial changes to gain the support of the community or face years of pushback, appeals and possible lawsuits. He also suggested that another Community Meeting be held with greater technical details for this location and that residents suggest other locations.
Instead of taking this sound advice, the Salvation Army has decided to move forward with the project unchanged. The project will be reviewed on Monday, October 7th, by the City’s Architectural Board of Review (ABR) unchanged. Residents are urged to attend the meeting and to submit emails to the Architectural Board of Review in advance of the meeting:
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