Gregory Ward, who is homeless, stood on the sidewalk in front of the Rose Garden Inn in Santa Barbara on Tuesday waving a sign that read, “Recall City Net. Stop the waste. Replace the fat.”
As he stood there, Ward said he was hit by a rock, thrown by a resident of the Rose Garden Inn. He lifted his shirt to show the BB-sized red wound on his ribs to police officers.
About five Santa Barbara Police Department officers and their vehicles swarmed in and out of the parking lot, while separate security guards watched. One photographer took a photo of the wound and then stepped onto the property to talk to residents.
Ward, who lives on the streets near the Rose Garden Inn, said he thinks the program is a bit of gimmick and not a long-term solution.
“By the time it’s all said and done, it’s probably about $400 a night per room,” Ward said. “If you can’t find something else to do with that kind of money to help all the homeless people instead of these few that they call an eyesore, then something’s wrong with them.”
The morning drama came on the same day that the City of Santa Barbara gave an update to the City Council about the status of the project. In May, the city agreed to ask homeless people living in encampments to move into the Rose Garden Inn at 3643 State St. for up to 120 days. City leaders want to find a place for the campers because they are concerned that they could start a fire, and during dry, drought conditions, the situation could be disastrous for city residents.
The city is spending about $1.6 million and partnering with nonprofit organization City Net to provide the bridge housing for about 50 people living in encampments. City Net will provide 24-hour security and manage the facility.
Gregory Ward talks with Santa Barbara police officers after he says he was hit by a rock from a tenant of the Rose Garden Inn as he held up a sign to protest the project on Tuesday. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
The council members heaped praise on the project, saying it was a good start toward helping individuals long term.
“For me, a number of these encampments that have been cleared have been downtown in my own neighborhood,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said. “The impact of this program has been so tangible on the neighborhoods. The visual impact has been quite significant. The key to making this program more than a Band-Aid is to figure out this transitional component.”
Fifty-four former campers have been moved into safe shelter since July, and 42 currently reside at the hotel. Rene Eyerly, acting assistant city administrator, said there were some campers who attempted to gain residence at the facility who weren’t part of the cleared encampment sites.
“More bridge housing and property owners and managers who will accept housing vouchers are desperately needed in our region,” Eyerly said. “It may take another couple of months to find housing for all of our current residents, based on current availability.”
She said the primary reason the pilot project at the hotel is on hold is because of difficulties placing the individuals into long-term housing with the “severely limited” vouchers.
The city cleared six encampments, including the Highway 101 northbound onramp at Castillo Street, the Highway 101 northbound offramp at Garden Street, the Highway 101 southbound offramp at Castillo Street, the Highway 101 on and offramps at Milpas Street, the Highway 101 southbound onramp at Carrillo Street and the Union Pacific underpass at Los Patos Way.
In those spots, there were 18 fires before residents were moved to the hotel. Since the move, there have been no encampment fires reported.
The city and City Net are working together to find ways to extend the length of time the residents can stay at the hotel because they won’t be able to find permanent homes for them by the end of November, when the lease at the Rose Garden Inn runs out.
Brad Fieldhouse, executive director of City Net, says the project is working about as well as expected. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
“As a project, it’s gone as we would have hoped and we would have expected,” said Brad Feldhaus, executive director of City Net. “We have, by and large, a positive experience by those who have been here, getting stable, getting housing ready, getting doctor’s appointments, whatever circumstances they could have been facing.”
Fieldhouse said some people have been “exited” from the program because of behavior.
He said hotels are expensive, but utilizing existing infrastructure is better than putting them under a tent in a parking lot.
“The options of putting up a bunch of tents in a parking lot, this is better than that,” Fieldhouse said.
The issue will return to the City Council in October for another update. Councilman Eric Friedman said it will take more than the city to resolve the situation.
“It is going to require collaboration with the county and our neighborhood jurisdictions to address this regionally,” Friedman said.