H-SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Jan 19, 2012 9:50 PM by Ariel Wesler

Winter weather raises concerns about homeless shelter overcrowding

The closure of two homeless shelters in Lompoc earlier this week could pose challenges for the Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria.

The Lompoc Housing Community Development Corporation closed the Marks House and the Bridgehouse shelters on Tuesday after running out of money to operate them. Now, the city and county are trying to re-open them as soon as possible.

The cold weather is driving people to homeless shelters and warming centers. Add to that a good chance of rain and a down economy and the Good Samaritan Shelter says this is the busiest it has ever been.

The Bridgehouse homeless shelter is one of two Lompoc shelters that closed indefinitely--leaving 20 people without a roof over their heads.

"If there's nowhere for them to sleep there and they're not going to sleep in the cold inclimate weather, they're going to come to Santa Maria," said Christie Alarcon, Director of Operations for the Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter.

She says they have been flooded with phone calls and while the city and county work to re-open the Lompoc shelters, the shelter in Santa Maria is already full.

"We're not receiving funding to operate here for the city of Lompoc, so it does affect our operating costs," Alarcon said.

The Santa Maria emergency shelter has 96 beds, but it has been consistently housing around 115 people. To stay in the emergency shelter, you must be clean and sober, but if you don't qualify, you can still stay in a warming center overnight, no questions asked.

"In most cases, if we didn't have the warming center, we'd have to turn them away," Alarcon said.

The city of Lompoc has contracted with Good Samaritan to reopen and operate the Marks House. Mayor John Linn says it could open as early as next week. The Bridgehouse, which is owned by the county, will not likely open until February.

Meanwhile, there is a warming center that will stay open on 816 North C Street in Lompoc until the Bridghouse reopens.

The warming center in Santa Maria usually opens if the temperature is expected to drop below 35 degrees or there's at least 40 percent chance of rain.

We also checked in with the Prado Day Center in San Luis Obispo. It is also seeing more people because of the cold weather.

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