Homeless in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara Community Street Voice

Could Mobile Lunch Sites Work?

The City Council’s Subcommittee on Homelessness and Community Issues met Wednesday to hear ideas about creating a lunchtime food distribution system for homeless persons in the city and move away from the large free lunch currently operating at Casa Esperanza. The combined efforts of Casa’s Community Kitchen and the Organic Soup Kitchen (OSK) would ideally serve food in locations where other services that homeless people need can be provided. The goal would be to lessen the impact of homeless traffic on the Milpas corridor.

Currently, Casa Esperanza’s Community Kitchen offers the only lunch program available seven days a week to shelter residents and non-residents. According to shelter director Mike Foley, they serve over 200 meals daily 365 days a year. Milpas residents and business owners say the meal program is the source of loitering and other problems they believe the presence of homeless people in the area cause.

The proposal to limit the impact of the homeless on Milpas would involve downsizing the lunch at Casa Esperanza to serve only residents. However, those in charge at Casa have made it clear they would only be open to this idea if adequate services to provide 100+ meals per day could be offered elsewhere in the city. Criteria for finding appropriate locations would demand they be easily accessible to the homeless, would not have a large impact on the neighborhood and that ongoing funding could be provided for use of the locations.

A six-person committee (appointed by the Subcommittee on Homelessness and Community Issues) examined the prospect of setting up off-site lunch locations and provided recommendations to the Council’s Subcommittee. Foley, a committee member, said the Community Kitchen could use a truck to deliver food at four different locations, probably churches. Anthony Carroccio, OSK founder, proposed something along those lines too. He said his meals would provide 2,000 calories and 94 grams of protein in a sack lunch that could be eaten throughout the day. For many, the lunch at Casa is their only meal in a 24-hour period.

Special emphasis was placed on combining food delivery with health and legal services. Foley explained Santa Monica’s method of offering outreach services by moving food programs to established indoor locations. In Santa Barbara, services for hygiene, health and legal issues would ideally be offered at the new food centers. Attorney Emily Allen, who visits Casa Esperanza weekly to offer legal advice, supported the idea of combining services. “Food helps to get them in the door so they can begin to think about other concerns.”

Not all of those gathered were optimistic about the proposed off site food programs. Sharon Byrne, Executive Eirector of Milpas Community Association (MCA) saw no hope of the program transitioning the burden off the Milpas community. She cited a correlation between more beds being offered at Casa, and an increased crime rate in the neighborhood. Foley countered that a similar correlation could be made between a decreased police presence and an increased crime rate.

The deal-breaker for the idea may come from what has become an all too common problem in today’s economy—lack of funding. Foley said for the cost of a Community Kitchen off-site mobile food concept would be around $279,000 with $50,000 in reserve and another $35,000-$40,000 for a truck. He explained that just in the last five years it has become more difficult to obtain grants. Fewer organizations are offering grants, with many only offering grants on a strict year-to-year basis.

Carroccio said his mobile food distribution proposal would cost $235,000 along with another $35 to $40,000 for a truck. But he added that if the council approved of the idea, he could raise a big part of the money from private sources. In fact, he said, since Wednesday’s meeting, someone already offered to donate a catering truck.

Councilmember Dale Francisco, who sits on the committee with Councilmember Bendy White and Mayor Helene Schneider, did not think private funds could be tapped for the effort. “City money is going to be necessary because there is not going to be enough from charities and other organizations,” he said, which was a notable coming from such a stalwart Council conservative.

Recommendations from the 6-member committee included lobbying the State of California to change its new regulations that are prohibitting the opening of new satellite lunch sites such as the one operating from the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Cota Street. That program serves 30 free lunches daily to people who sign up for them at Casa Esperanza. The idea being, that 10 or 20 of these could achieve the same goal as mobile lunches, at a much lower cost.

Francisco said the issue is one the entire council needs to weigh together. Ultimately the solution will need to be derived by creating clear goals for what services to offer and how to use those services to reduce homelessness. The soon to be released data from the Common Ground survey will no doubt prove invaluable in shaping realistic goals and expectations for future outreach efforts.

The Subcommittee will meet again in a month.

By Nick St. O Egger

Photo of The Rescue Mission’s Rolf Geyling MDiv, at left, and Sharon Byrne of MCA, at the Subcommitee on Homelessness and Community Issues, by Nick St.Oegger.