How Santa Barbara is Dealing with Homelessness
In the United States, there are 168 homeless people per 100,000 people. In Santa Barbara County, there are 490 homeless people per 100,000 which puts Santa Barbara’s rate 192% above the national average. Since homelessness is so high here in Santa Barbara, I wanted to hear from some of the local groups who work directly with the homeless population. I reached out to the Santa Barbara Police Department, and got the opportunity to speak with Lieutenant Kenneth Kushner who oversees several departments that interact directly with the homeless.
How does the police department interact with the homeless population?
“The police department has a lot of involvement with people in the community that are experiencing homelessness. The first way that there could be involvement is through enforcement. Like any other portion of the population, there are times when crimes are committed.
There’s a lot of other ways that police are involved, like one key role is helping facilitate services from service providers. Different service providers offer services but they’ll want a presence there to look out for everybody’s safety that would be the role of a police officer.
We also have a correspondence officer who is partnered with a mental health clinician so that’s another way we interact with the homeless.”
How have the police department’s interactions with homeless people changed due to the COVID pandemic?
“We did go into a period of time where we were limiting our interaction (with the homeless people) so that we weren’t spreading or getting COVID.
A lot of community members have made observations and there seems to be more homeless encampments on the side of the freeway, and really everywhere”
Why do you think Santa Barbara’s homelessness rate is so high?
“One thing that is certainly different than many other states is our weather which allows someone to sleep outside. Also Santa Barbara is a tourist destination so I’ve observed people who panhandle, and seem to do it pretty successfully. Those are things that jump out of my mind but by no means are definitive answers based on anything other than my own opinion.”
What do you see as some solutions to the homelessness problem here in Santa Barbara?
Homelessness isn’t an issue that we’re going to police our way out of. We’re not going to go out and write tickets and arrest people and end homelessness that way.
Some solutions that I’ve observed are: building trust first, recognizing what people want and what they need, and really increasing the services that are being provided.
Finally, there needs to be a significant amount of availability for diversion or anybody that is needing any type of program whether it’s substance abuse, alcohol, mental illness. And then the bottom line is housing”.
To learn more about this topic, I paid a visit to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, a local organization that helps homeless people along with many other services to the community. I got the chance to speak with Kevin Carroll who is the Director of homeless guest services. Be sure to visit the Forge website to watch our video-story on homelessness in Santa Barbara, which includes this exclusive interview with Kevin Carroll.