By Marianne McCarthy
National Sessions provide a great opportunity for Fielding students to get a practical view of social change in action. As our community gathers in one geographic area, we often dedicate a day to investigate first-hand how agencies within a local community address issues such as worker’s rights, poverty, and other social issues.
This January, during the Winter Session, Fielding’s School of Human & Organizational Development (HOD) organized a day-long field trip and evening symposium called “Homeless in Paradise.” Approximately 20 Fielding students and faculty members visited shelters and low-income housing projects and learned how local agencies and nonprofits tackle homelessness in a city that is considered by many to be paradise. Later that evening, a panel of local officials and agency directors addressed the general public on innovative policies and partnerships that lead to effective and transformative programs. They were joined by recent HOD graduate, Michael Wilson, PhD, whose work with The Phoenix Centre in British Columbia exemplifies the benefits of building a socially innovative community that can respond to the complex and interconnected issues of homelessness.
Developing Transitional Opportunities
Despite its reputation for locals with wealth and fame, Santa Barbara surprisingly ranks in one of the lowest categories for affordable housing. Rob Fredericks, deputy director of the Santa Barbara City Housing Authority, attributes this to the community’s high rental prices and low vacancy rates.
“The need is not only to provide shelter to those on the streets, but also to house seniors and a work-force that can’t afford to rent at market rates,” explained Fredericks, who cited a waiting list of over 7,500.
Fredericks led the Fielding group on a tour that progressed from shelters and supportive housing programs to low-income residences, demonstrating how a local in need might transition from homelessness to greater independence.
At the 200-bed Casa Esperanza, we learned how the struggling shelter has had to change its model to survive. According to Executive Director Mike Foley, the nonprofit recently merged with the Community Kitchen and changed from an open shelter to one that mandates sobriety, to keep dollars flowing.
Our next stop was Transition House, an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence which also provides long-term housing and supportive services for individuals and families. By offering mental health, case management, and career development services, the nonprofit works to address the issues that lead to homelessness.
Executive Director Kathleen Bauske expressed that since “children of the homeless are more likely to be homeless as adults,” it’s important to break the cycle.
“Combining services with housing helps get people to integrate back into society,” added Fredericks.
This type of model is also proving successful for Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, a regional nonprofit that provides affordable housing to 5,000 low-income children, adults, and seniors. By providing constituents with supportive services such as youth education, skill development, and income counseling, its programs are helping marginalized individuals gain greater self-sufficiency.
But these agencies can’t do it alone. They rely heavily on federal redevelopment dollars (which area disappearing), in-kind donations, and thousands of volunteers to make ends meet.
Overcoming the NIMBY factor
According to Fredericks, one of the challenges that cities around the country are facing is “Not In My Back Yard.”
As we toured these facilities, scattered throughout the downtown area, it quickly became evident that design matters. All the residences are clean, quiet, and well-kept. Low street-front profiles and groomed landscaped help them blend into their neighborhoods, many of which are residential.
As he reiterated throughout the tour, it's important to landscape and maintain properties to keep public support. "If you give people a nice place to live, they're going to take care of it. If they take care of it, the public is going to support it.”
Making a Difference Takes Collaboration
If there was a theme for the day, it was collaboration. And on this, the panel at the evening symposium all agreed.
Panel participants included (Left to right) Michael Wilson, Kathleen Bauske, Mayor Helene Schneider, Rob Federicks, and Supervisor Doreen Faar. They all agreed that creating effective and enduring partnerships between public and private agencies and garnering community support are the essential ingredients to building successful and innovative programs that help people transition out of homelessness. You can view the entire presentation online.
“If we can produce socially beneficial initiatives on the community level, we can do the same on a global level,” said Wilson.
Fielding would like to express its gratitude to everyone who took time away from their busy schedule to provide us with an informative and meaningful exploration of their city’s approach to homelessness. In particular we thank Rob Fredericks, City of Santa Barbara Housing Authority; Micki Flacks, County of Santa Barbara Housing Authority; Mike Foley, Casa Esperanza; Kathleen Bauske, Transition House; Kristen Tippelt, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing; Doreen Farr, Santa Barbara County 3rd District Supervisor; Helene Schneider, Santa Barbara Mayor; Michael Wilson, The Phoenix Centre; and The Santa Barbara Trolley Company.