SB County: Attacking Homelessness with Data & Innovation

By Jeff Giordano   |   May 14, 2024

As the City of SB laments its not insignificant deficit and the County faces its own budget shortfall, our new Community Services Department Director Jesús Armas seems to be bringing a bit of light to the problem of our time – homelessness. Allow me to explain:

For the third straight year, permanent housing placement increased to its highest level in County history with 1,402 homeless placements – up 28% since 2020. Unfortunately, the number of those needing shelter is increasing at a greater pace. So where is the light? Well, it comes from the data-driven approach Mr. Armas and his team recently exhibited at their annual Board update. Supervisor Joan Hartmann was spot-on stating, “CSD has just upped the game for other departments.” One can only dream.

Housing and Community Development (HCD) Deputy Director Joe Dzvonik outlined clearly measurable goals, saying “we want to eliminate chronic homelessness … through relentless, rigorous, and innovative staff work.” Data-driven leadership and a culture that challenges the status quo – bravo! 

Federal American Rescue Plan funding, together with help from HCD and the Good Samaritan Shelter, hatched the idea of temporary housing (“you can’t treat on the street”) with 20 pop-up shelters in what was then Supervisor Hartmann’s district. This project morphed into a private-public partnership between Dignity Moves and the County. Dignity Moves (a nonprofit-like General Social Survey) was envisioned by smart Young Presidents Organization folks and is being locally advised by some wonderful individuals, including Aaron Edelheit

The DignityNOW initiative will build 430 temporary/transitional units against the more than 560 the County needs. Last year, Hope Village in Santa Maria – serviced by GSS – brought 94 units online and 80 will soon become available at the La Posada site. Supervisor Bob Nelson told me he proudly viewed Hope Village from the County building while Supervisor Laura Capps hopes La Posada’s homeless camp adjacency will energize participation, because a full two-thirds of those who are offered help say “no.” 

In California, it generally takes years to build permanent housing for the unhoused with a single unit costing as much as $800k. Meaning, it would cost $3.2B for us to permanently place our 4,000 or so homeless, i.e. transitioning and treatment-centric solutions hold the key.

The brilliance in the solution is its simplicity: Dignity Moves provides the funding and the County temporarily contributes the land. By “self-permitting”, the County cuts the red tape (can we do the same for ADU’s?) and the units are built for $50k each. Innovative.

Our 2025 Budget Workshops will not be pretty. MY HOPE: That our Supervisors and CEO Mona Miyasato demand a similar data-driven approach from other departments to bring “reason” into what will be some very tough decisions. Thank you CSD for leading the way!  

Jeff Giordano, SB County Resident


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