After being discharged from military service, Robert attended college and was on track for a successful life. Then something inside him went horribly wrong. He became homeless, a quiet fixture in Isla Vista who lived by a coffeehouse. "Eventually community volunteers approached Robert
and began to build trust," recalls Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness homeless outreach worker Father Jon Hedges.
When affordable housing finally became available, Robert left the streets and was linked to medical, mental health and social services. "Today Robert is thriving and exploring volunteer opportunities to give back to the community -- a far cry from the lost, isolated man who languished on
the streets for several decades," notes Father Hedges.
What worked for Robert and countless others is supportive housing. This evidence-based practice offers safe and affordable housing for people with disabilities and connects them to supports and services. People's Self-Help Housing, which provides hundreds of affordable housing units, finds that over 90% of formerly homeless individuals linked
to services remain housed for six months or longer.
According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the annual cost of criminal justice, health care and other services for a homeless person can be between $35,000 and $150,000. In many instances, it costs more to maintain a homeless individual than to solve the problem. Ending homelessness
is the right thing to do morally and financially.
Homelessness in Santa Barbara County can be substantially reduced by doing one or more of the following:
- Fight stigma. Educate others about the fact that "Most people with mental illness are not violent, and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness." (Department of Health and Human Services)
- Inform landlords that individuals they accept with mental illness will
be linked to supportive services and receive weekly visits from an outreach
worker to help ensure success. To learn more, please contact Chuck Flacks, Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, 293-7965,
- Join a volunteer outreach team. Contact Stephen Gruver of Common Ground, 451-5604,
- Support or advocate for a Landlord Liaison Program (LLP). This best practice is a partnership of landlords, property managers, human services agencies and homeless people. Homeless individuals are offered assistance with permanent housing and ongoing support from human service agencies. Landlords receive
incentives like rapid response to concerns, a 24-hour call-in line and risk reduction funds.
If we stand up to stigma and work collaboratively, we can make homelessness a thing of the past.
Adapted from an article that appeared in Carpinteria Coastal View News.