Coast Hills

Affordable housing, homelessness are dire issues here on the Central Coast

by Joshua D. Scroggin
January 13, 2017

There isn’t a single homeless woman or child turned away at Bridge House Shelter in Lompoc.

The same goes for the other emergency homeless shelters run by Good Samaritan Shelter in Northern Santa Barbara County. Just like the others, Bridge House is a place where homeless families can carve out a small place for themselves for up to 90 days. Veterans also have special priority.

And because of that, the facility is almost literally bursting at the seams. More than 90 clients and close to 25 children regularly occupy Bridge House, which was really designed for a maximum capacity of 55 or 60.

On any given night, Good Samaritan’s 17 shelters in Lompoc and Santa Maria house around 500 people, including more than 30 homeless veterans. Recent estimates show that’s covering around half of the homeless population in the area.

More and more folks are being squeezed into shelters all throughout CoastHills Credit Union’s field of membership on the Central Coast, and while nonprofits are working hard to meet the need, they are finding it extremely difficult to find permanent solutions for people when those 90 days are up.

“There is less than a 2 percent vacancy rate for housing in Santa Barbara County,” said Kirsten Cahoon, Good Samaritan Shelter Emergency Program Manager. “A landlord throws a Craigslist ad up on the web, and there are 50 applications within an hour. Our clients that obviously don’t have good credit or rental history are trying to compete with you and I for these units. And it’s just not happening.

“Lots of people are getting part-time, minimum-wage jobs, but in California, nobody can survive on minimum wage. People are becoming homeless and staying in shelters longer.”

5 Cities Homeless CoalitionRecent trends show a surge in home prices. Sales volume is up. Rates are up. And rent prices have gone along with them. In San Luis Obispo’s South County — where estimates place another 1,000 people living on the streets on any given night — 5 Cities Homeless Coalition staff have found that rents for two-bedroom apartments have soared upwards of 40 percent in places like Grover Beach in the past two years alone.

Even in some of our most affluent communities, the dearth of low-income housing is overwhelming. Recognizing the need, nonprofit charity Many Mansions has been developing and managing its own low-income housing in Thousand Oaks since 1979. The organization prides itself on taking in people like single mothers living out of their cars and giving their families a chance at getting back on their feet.

Many Mansions owns and manages more than 500 units of affordable housing, which are home to approximately 1,200 adults and 300 children. Even as the organization prepares to open new complexes in Simi Valley and Oxnard this year, the waiting list for applicants remains massive.

“It’s the same problem we all face. We don’t have enough affordable housing,” said Bambi Hosaka, the Public Relations and Special Events Manager for Many Mansions. “There’s poverty. There’s a lot of poverty, even in Ventura County.”

At CoastHills, recognizing the challenge our communities have with the housing shortage has inspired thousands of dollars in donations to homeless or low-income housing organizations this past year.

Our employee giving program — funded exclusively through voluntary payroll deductions of our dedicated staff — has awarded $2,000 in sponsorships to Bridge House. Another $1,000 was given to El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) in Atascadero.

ECHO ShelterECHO runs the lone homeless shelter in Northern San Luis Obispo County. It offers up to 80 free dinners each night at its 50-bed facility. Like Bridge House, ECHO offers a 90-day transitional program to get folks re-housed and back on their feet. More than 75 percent of ECHO’s funding comes from donations like the one from CoastHills employees.

In addition to the employee giving program, CoastHills has also supported homeless and affordable housing causes through our Community Action Sponsorship program. Each month, a committee of volunteers from the Credit Union meets to award sponsorship requests from community nonprofits.

The committee gave $500 to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition’s annual Empty Bowls event, and in an effort focused on supporting Ventura County, an extension of the committee handed Many Mansions a $1,000 sponsorship at the ribbon-cutting of CoastHills’ brand new branch in Thousand Oaks in September.

CoastHills’ internal Culture Advisory Team also hosted the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition for a special donation drive at the Credit Union’s all-staff meeting in December. There, all 230 of CoastHills’ employees got together to bring donations. The group gave $370 in gift cards distributed to 32 unaccompanied homeless youth, enough canned goods and food to distribute to 80 families and hygiene kits, clothing and blankets that covered 120 families.

SM GSam shelterAnd heeding a call from Good Samaritan for volunteers, employees from the Credit Union’s branches in Santa Maria and Nipomo got together to serve dinner at the emergency shelter in Santa Maria last month.  

The affordable-housing situation on the Central Coast is dire and daunting. Organizations need large amounts of funding. They need more properties. They need things that seemingly don’t exist and won’t be provided by easy solutions.

But there is still much you can do on a personal level.

food pantryWhether it’s ECHO, 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, Good Samaritan or Many Mansions, your local homeless/affordable housing organization can greatly benefit from volunteers. Bridge House has a shortage of volunteers to cook and serve food. Many Mansions needs tutors and mentors for its selection of children’s services. Catholic Charities in Lompoc, which runs a food pantry that supports a wide range of needy organizations and individuals, could use your help taking stock and inventory.

 If you would like to donate or volunteer, here is a list of resources that make it easy to make a difference in your neighbors’ lives:

  • The Lompoc Food Pantry — See a list of items most needed and call or drop by to find out how you can volunteer for the organization that provides food to one out of five people in Lompoc.
  • El Camino Homeless Organization — Support the lone homeless shelter in Northern SLO County by viewing the donation page, which supports automatic billing, one-time donations or major sponsorships.
  • Many Mansions — The organization providing affordable housing in Ventura County has a donation page that supports PayPal and others or call to find out how to volunteer.
  • 5 Cities Homeless Coalition — The Coalition’s donation page allows donors to personalize certificates to make a donation in honor of others. You can also find more information on volunteer opportunities.
  • Good Samaritan Shelter — Help support the shelters run in Lompoc and Santa Maria with an electronic donation or sign up to volunteer.
  • Know of a homeless/affordable housing organization not listed? Apply for a sponsorship through the CoastHills Community Foundation’s Community Action Sponsorship program

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