Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless title=
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
159 Comments
Reads 19686

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.”

Login to add Comments

159 Comments

Show Comments
monkeyboy Jun 28, 2021 03:02 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

This will be a great addition to San Roque. I especially love how my Megan's Law app regularly alerts me to the new sex offenders that move into the Orange Tree homeless hotel a bit down the street. At least maybe the traffic at Chik Fil A might go down when people get tired of being panhandled while blocking State to get their greasy chicken.

SBTownie Jun 28, 2021 03:24 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Wow, this was not an exaggeration. I just mapped it and a registered sex offender IS living at the Orange Tree Inn as part of this program. He is also listed as in violation of the terms of his release - not sure. For those wondering, he was convicted of sex crimes against a child. So we're paying to house this guy while the rest of us get up every day to go to work to pay our rent or mortgage and our property taxes? Makes me sick.

SBTownie Jun 28, 2021 03:25 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Sorry meant to say not sure what his violation is. Either way, disgusting and unbelievable the tax payers are footing the bill to house sex offenders in one of the most expensive and in-demand real estate markets on earth.

a-1624929708 Jun 28, 2021 06:21 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

It's easy to say that, SBTOWNIE. But we cannot call our system a "justice" system if we continue to punish criminals who have done their time. I get the outrage, especially for this case involving a crime against a child, it's tough. However we cannot turn our backs and govt benefits while simultaneously saying these ex-cons are reformed. America has a massive prison and reform problem. Until we fix that, this is how it is. Outrage at this guy receiving govt handouts is a symptom of a broken system.

SBTownie Jun 28, 2021 07:50 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

I agree once you serve your time you should not be "punished" beyond being on an offender registry - this is NOT about punishing them. It is about REWARDING them with taxpayer money and it's disgusting you insist my tax dollars go to house a sex offender.

a-1624938406 Jun 28, 2021 08:46 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

SBTOWNIE, it is very obviously a punishment to withhold benefits extended to literally any other citizen who qualifies based solely on a criminal record. It's a hard truth to swallow and I hear you. But the American justice system has bred this opinion in you and many others. It's a sick and twisted feedback loop, and look where it's landed us. I encourage you to take a look at other first-world takes at prison systems, rehabilitation, and recidivism rates.

a-1624938710 Jun 28, 2021 08:51 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

And - it's not ME that insists, it is the idea that a justice system provides justice that insists. Back to the idea that you cannot claim justice served while simultaneously continuing to punish, whatever form that may come in. I know this is angering to many, it angers me too. But I don't believe in punishing a citizen for the failures of a system we, me, you, our country and our government created. Where do you draw the line? Do you believe sex offenders should be locked up for life with no chance of parole? If so, your beef is with your lawmakers, not with the sex offenders.

PitMix Jun 28, 2021 03:04 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

So great of the City to spend our local tax dollars on this national problem. If it is a local problem, then help the homeless that came from here, and send the rest back to their hometowns so they can get assistance there. Where are our national politicians and what are they doing to help clean up this mess?

a-1624975482 Jun 29, 2021 07:04 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

@Marcelk, @SBTownie, @Seabird @Pitmix, the SB County point in time count will be looking for volunteers for the 2022 count and you are welcome to meet the 77% of houseless people who were once your neighbors, but now live in their vehicles or on the streets. http://countyofsb.org/uploadedFiles/housing/Content/Homeless_Assistance/HomlessAssistance_Site_Update_2019/2020%20PIT%20Presentation.pdf

SBTownie Jun 28, 2021 03:20 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

This is already happening at the Orange Tree Inn just next to the 7-11 at Mission. The entire place has been shut now for a few months at least. It's fenced off and non-profit staff seem to be around at all hours. Frankly, I think it is not a bad idea to use seedier motels for this type of thing rather than building brand new housing, but where does this end? If we start renting out or buying up lodging and providing it to anyone who comes (because I'm not clear on what "rules" residents must abide by), then what type of system do we end up with? People can just move to Santa Barbara and acquire lodging? It's problematic to do nothing but it also seems problematic to do this. I would love some government assistance to help me pay to live in Santa Barbara. I agree with what Pitmix wrote, but how can we ever enforce this? It's a shame that we cannot. We have, probably, well over a thousand homeless people here and I guarantee you most of them are not originally from here.

Byzantium Jun 28, 2021 04:18 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

You have already done this on Upper State - nearly all the former motels are now Section 8 housing. You see, there is no end to the demand. So there has to be an end to this ridiculous city council - this November.

Rypert Johnson Jun 28, 2021 03:41 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

From the link MARCELK shared:

How do people become homeless?

Top reasons people become homeless:

42.5% Lost job or economic issues (insert drug use in this factor)
20% drugs or alcohol use (usually contributes to lost job, divorce or argument with family member)
17% divorce or separation (insert drug use in this factor)
15% an argument with a family member who asked them to leave (insert drug use into this factor)
7.5% eviction (insert drug use into this factor)
10% mental health or physical health issues (this is actually a real factor)

And there you have it.

Byzantium Jun 29, 2021 08:54 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Billions of dollars already spent on our federal social welfare system for those finding temporary impoverishment. Take that 42% out of the percentages - we are already generously supplying for their needs. These are the "have nots". 10% - need to be put in lockdown state care institutions. the "can nots". Which leaves 50% who are 90% of the problems - - the drug and alcohol addicts and the service resistant "will nots". I do not want to waste another dime on them. Nor should you.

Byzantium Jun 28, 2021 04:14 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Vagrancy is not complicated or contradictory - that is an excuse to keep wasting more money while doing nothing but grow the problem. The more you incentivize vagrncy, the more you will get. This is not complicated. It is simple. vagrants are either have nots, can nots or will nots. Which one of these three get free room and board at the Rose Garden Inn? How long will it take to get the word out to the rest of the wandering, non-resident community.

Byzantium Jun 28, 2021 04:16 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Upper State has long been a crime cess pit - just look at Crime Spotters. Hope those new million dollar plus condo owners at Estancia (former Sandman Inn) have a truth in advertising clause that lets them get out of their contracts.

bosco Jun 28, 2021 04:25 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Why do they never publish how people are selected for this housing? There should be a priority list. Local history, age, mentally health, criminal record, etc. should all be factors. Take in as many people as we can house according to our resources based on priority. Those that don't make the list need to move on. Housing must be paired with enforcement.

Chip of SB Jun 28, 2021 04:30 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

This plan does nothing to address the root cause of what people like to call “homelessness.” Offering a room and services is nice, but those suffering from addiction and mental illness can’t and won’t voluntarily make the changes necessary to get their lives on track. This motel is going to be little more than a heroin/meth den. The article also mentions fires. While people suffering from mental illness and addiction tend to set lots of fires, relocating them also fails to address the root cause of our fire problem. Nothing is being done to mitigate the vast amounts of hazardous dead and dry fuels around our community. We need to adopt a new approach that addresses these problems head on.

Byzantium Jun 28, 2021 04:35 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Take one outstretched palm and place another outstretched palm into a "Time Out" position and point it to City Hall, while saying see you in November. No one keeps doing this to us, without our permission at the ballot box. You have good choices to make this year. Make all four of them count. Plus get a new city attorney who will fight for this city's property owning and taxpaying residents, and stop giving it away to those who are neither.

SoCalMommy Jun 28, 2021 04:36 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

So let's bring them up from downtown and give them free room and board and amenities in San Roque, next to a bunch of restaurants. We are only moving the problem, not creating a solution. You cannot force them into mental health services or addiction services. They will be roaming around San Roque now, panhandling at Jeannine's. Why would we move them into an area extremely densely populated with families with children? Funnel this magical money gift into a facility out on the outskirts of town past Winchester so we don't have to worry about taking our kids out to dinner and them witnessing mental ill homesless peeing and masturbating next to our dinner. So sick of this crap.

Chip of SB Jun 28, 2021 04:49 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we cannot force them into mental health or addiction services. Until that changes, all we can do is relocate the problem and the situation will continue to spiral out of control.

a-1624931503 Jun 28, 2021 06:51 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Maybe by putting them in the relatively wealthy area of San Roque we can get some long term plans going. The less fancy areas close to down town are tired of bearing the brunt of this problem.

sacjon Jun 29, 2021 12:14 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

SOCALMOMMY - "the outskirts of town past Winchester." Ok, wow. Have you ever been out here? How far are you talking about? The bluffs of Gaviota? Dos Pueblos Ranch? Rancho Embarcadero? Winchester Canyon itself? What do you think exists in these "outskirts?" Where, exactly, do you want to push the homeless so they don't bother you at Jeannine's?

biguglystick Jun 29, 2021 01:15 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Just where exactly do you think they could house people out in Winchester Canyon. And don't you care about the "families with children" who live out there? NOPE, just YOUR backyard. Mm hmm. We see you.

JB86 Jun 30, 2021 07:41 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

socalmommy; what you don't get is that homeless folks need to be near their bread and butter. Beyond Winchester Canyon is not much - no citizens to beg money from, no dumpsters to dive, no public restrooms, no restaurants This is like the short-lived idea of using the vast, mostly abandoned Camp Roberts to house the homeless...they just won't go for it. Unfortunately, these people are going to stick to urban areas.

PitMix Jun 29, 2021 08:10 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Ad in the Indy by SBACT says that 76% of our homeless are homegrown. So that myth of being a magnet for outsiders because of our services is just an urban legend that appeals to the emotions of consarvative commentators.

dukemunson Jun 29, 2021 11:17 AM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

Sac - the problem has obviously and definitively gotten worse. We are throwing billions to dollars at this and what we are getting is a ton of non profit organisations jumping in to help use and disperse that money. Most are no doubt well meaning… but there is a lot of money going around… just look at the cost breakdown of this project or the pallet village in IV… thus the term “homeless inc”…

The left for some reason loves to say that not much had changed and “we’re not that bad” (thanks mrs mayor)… but things are worse than they were 20 years ago… and we are actively making things worse..

sacjon Jun 29, 2021 12:03 PM
Upper State Street Motel May Rent All Rooms to Homeless

DUKE - sure, it's maybe gotten worse over the years, but to keep suggesting that downtown SB was recently some idyllic, clean and vagrant-free paradise that is now all of a sudden overrun with "homeless criminals" is just not accurate. I never said "we're not that bad," read it again.

Pages

Please Login or Register to comment on this.