Local News

May 19, 2010 10:22 PM by Ariel Wesler

Housing conference aims to help homeless

Thousands of people in Santa Barbara County have no place to call home.

That was the focus of a housing conference today in Buellton. Housing and shelter providers are working together to get the county's homeless into permanent, affordable housing. Shelter directors say their clients can only stay in transitional housing for so long... and end up in limbo because they don't meet affordable housing requirements.

Billy Wilkins and Selena Avalos have been together for 11 months, but starting out wasn't easy.

"I was sleeping under a bush," Wilkins said.

Wilkins lost his job and he wound up on the streets.

"Drugs and alcohol probably played the other roll," he said.

There, he met Selena, who had also been battling substance abuse. . .so much so a court took away her two kids. Her third child is now just weeks away and it's providing the couple with much needed motivation.

"If I can prove I can handle him, then I can handle my other two," Avalos said.

They've been at the Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria for six months, and like many of the county's homeless, their troubled past is keeping them there.

"The clients that reside in our programs can't qualify for housing beyond that and can't serve them beyond the limits of our transitional housing so they kinda get stuck," said Good Samaritan Shelter Executive Director Sylvia Barnard

This housing conference is just a part of santa barbara county's 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness and it starts by bringing shelters and affordable housing providers to the same table.

"Rather than providing that they go through a program, where they get clean and sober, we want to get them into housing first and then tackle there social service needs," said Santa Barbara City Housing Authority Executive Director Rob Pearson.

He says that would cost thousands less per year than keeping them in an overcrowded jail and getting a permanent place to call home would give this family a place to grow together.

"It inspires me to keep going to stay off the streets, the drinking and the drugs. Don't need it. The baby comes first," Wilkins said.

Getting the homeless into permanent housing is really a balancing act between lowering or changing the qualifications and working harder with the homeless to get them qualified.

The Good Samaritan Shelter helps around 2,000 people each year.

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