Tiny homes open doors to homeless guests in Santa Barbara

After hosting three grand opening galas since last November, DignityMoves finally began admitting the first homeless clients to its groundbreaking new Tiny Home Village at 1016 Santa Barbara Street early this Monday, 8/8. As it opened, this one was softer than cats paws.

By day one, six residents had been moved off the streets or vehicles and into what are alternately described as “shacks”, “little houses” or, more bureaucratically, “interim supportive housing”. Whatever one chooses to call this design-heavy, intensely designed community of prefab homes – each 64 square feet with windows, a bed, a chair, a desk, heat and air conditioning, and a door that opens locks – she ranks as the boldest in Santa Barbara. efforts to meet the needs of the chronically homeless in Santa Barbara. Every day for the next two weeks, a handful of new residents will move in. When there are 35, the capacity will have been reached.

“Nothing like this has been tried here before,” said project manager Jeff Gaddes. That is, if anything, an understatement. Never before has such a concentration of homeless housing and services been placed in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. The immediate neighbor of the project is the investment company Morgan Stanley. The police station is half a block away, with the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Annex and the legendary courthouse almost spitting distance away.

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Gaddes — who brings relevant work experience in mental health and the concierge hospitality industry — works for Good Samaritan, the Santa Maria-based social justice nonprofit. Santa Barbara County hired this group to ensure the new community is well managed. It will provide the services needed to transition residents into long-term housing and work to ensure that neighbors are not disturbed.

The first night, Gaddes said, was both exciting and emotional. With a full moon in the sky and the courthouse tower looming, he said, it all seemed both magically real and unreal.

The slow move-in is part of the plan to allow people used to living in perpetual fight-or-flight mode to adjust to living within four walls and having three meals and clean bathrooms. “These are people who have been in survival mode,” Gaddes said. “Their level of exhaustion is extreme, both physically and emotionally. They just need time to rest. There will be weekly visits from medical professionals working for Doctors Without Walls and County Public Health, as well as behavioral health Private security will be on site 24/7, not to mention the Good Samaritan staff.

And there are rules. The curfew is at 9 p.m. No loitering or hanging around. No friend can hang around either. Alcohol and drugs are not allowed. Nothing, as Gaddes explained, should disturb the peace and recovery of residents who will benefit from “enhanced case management.” Translated, Gaddes said, it means “understanding why a person is on the street; it means giving them the space to tell their story.

Three of the first six people are women. The new residents ranged in age from their late 20s to their 60s. Many have been on the street for a very long time, some for decades. Several are well known and instantly recognizable to people who regularly walk State Street. Recruiting residents is not as easy as it seems; trust must be earned, a process that can take months of almost daily conversations.

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The project was sparked by a conversation Terri Maus-Nisich, a high-ranking county administrator, had with a Santa Barbara resident that described the work of a Bay Area nonprofit known as the name of DignityMoves. It was backed by young entrepreneurs determined to get people off the streets and into transitional housing. From that conversation, a $1.7 million construction proposal was made to the county, which agreed to contribute $700,000 in emergency federal funding made available during the pandemic. He also contributed the land, which until recently was a public parking lot operated for the benefit of the county probation department. The county has set aside an additional $1.2 million per year – for three years – to cover the costs of Good Samaritan services, management and administration.

The hope is that this new community will provide temporary housing for 66 people per year, or 200 over three years. That works out to about $25,000 per person.

Initially, the opening was to take place at the beginning of this year. Then it was pushed back to June because the prefab structures were stuck in shipping containers stuck on cargo ships stuck in the Port of Long Beach. Then there was a snafu with Southern California Edison pushing the June opening to August. For Gaddes, it’s show time. Downtown residents will feel the difference, he said: “You will see people on the street. In six months, here’s what I hope the story will be: ‘I forgot it was even there.’

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