BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
For the second homeless count in a row, the number of homeless individuals counted in Santa Maria has increased, while the overall number of homeless counted in Santa Barbara County has decreased.
On March 2, the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness announced the results from the January 2015 Point in Time homeless count. The counts are conducted every other January in Santa Barbara County as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) attempt to keep track of the nation’s homeless population.
Estimates from the counts have a tendency to be conservative, according to a November statement made by Ed Cabrera HUD’s regional office in San Francisco.
Santa Maria homeless numbers went up from 243 in 2011 to 300 in 2013 to 324 in 2015. Lompoc, Isla Vista, and Carpinteria also saw increases in homeless numbers, while Santa Barbara’s numbers have steadily decreased over the last three counts.
In 2011, Santa Barbara’s count recorded 1,040 homeless and 2015’s count recorded 893 homeless. The county’s numbers have gone from 1,536 homeless in 2011 to 1,455 in 2015.
Santa Maria’s homeless count increases mimic reports from Santa Maria’s shelters, which have noticed an uptick in the population they serve. Jack Boysen, Good Samaritan Shelter’s financial officer, said their shelters are pretty much full all the time now, and that wasn’t the case in the past.
Mark van de Kamp, a Santa Maria city spokesperson, echoed Boysen’s comments on the issue.
“We’ve experienced an increase in homelessness and panhandling,” ?van de Kamp said.
Santa Maria’s attempts to tackle the panhandling issue include an ordinance banning aggressive panhandling that was passed in 2014 and the recent installation of donation meters around town that benefit agencies serving the homeless. And although, the meters haven’t made a ton of money for agencies, the point of them is to educate ?the community.
“One of the big goals is to draw attention to the options available,” he said. “Instead of giving money directly to the person that is panhandling, reroute it to the agencies.”
That way, people can ensure that their money goes to helping the homeless rather than to help feed things like addictions, which is something panhandlers could be using the money for, van de Kamp said.
So far, there are four meters set up at different locations in the city, and van de Kamp said Santa Maria is looking to place a few more donation meters around town. He added that the owner of the McDonald’s on Fesler and Broadway said he would match the first $10,000 raised through the meters.