Common Ground Approach to Housing Homeless Spreads to Santa Barbara County

National movement kicks off locally with a meeting of experts and advocates for helping the needy

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | Published on 12.23.2010

More than 6,300 people experience homelessness annually in Santa Barbara County, and finding homes for the most needy among them is the focus of a new effort by advocates.

The 100,000 Homes movement is a national effort to reach out to 100,000 of the nation’s most vulnerable homeless and place them in housing. The movement has spread to Santa Barbara County, and several dozen experts in housing, mental health and social work met for the kickoff Tuesday night.

Leading the event was Rob Fredericks, deputy executive director and chief administrative officer at theHousing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara. Common Ground is a nonprofit organization aiming to organize local groups to better reach the homeless. The cost of housing the homeless would be less than the services they otherwise would use, according to Fredericks. Beyond that, he said, “it’s a moral issue we need to look at.”

The Santa Barbara County Housing and Community Development Department does what’s called a “point in time” count, which looks at the numbers of homeless in the county. The count usually occurs at the end of January every year, and is required by the department.

The county has asked for a time extension so that it can administer a vulnerability index at the same time. The index will record factors that put a person at a higher risk of death, such as whether the person is age 60 or older or has had more than three emergency room visits in the previous three months. An index registry week most likely will be held in February.

Jeff Shaffer, who works with the homeless at Pershing Park, said organizers will be working together to put together leadership teams on the South Coast as well as the North County. A boot camp will even be held in New Mexico for leadership to learn about the project.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oktEUZyRog&fs=1&hl=en_US]1,000 Homes campaign video

Shaffer said he hopes to get 400 to 500 people countywide to volunteer to administer the survey. In the past, the county has done the count but not collected any data. Volunteers will go out between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., as the homeless are just waking up for the day. After the data is gathered, it will be put into Housing and Urban Development Department’s database.

Shaffer said that as the homeless become housed, they need 12 to 15 supportive people to surround them and support their transition. He said he hopes to get more people involved in that way as well.

With a dearth of housing in the area, the question was raised: Where will the homeless go once they are deemed vulnerable? Shaffer said the program would reprioritize how housing works in Santa Barbara, and that the most needy would be emphasized for housing.

Fredericks asked all attendees at Tuesday night’s meeting to commit to being a part of the movement and spread the word. Gathering other resources will be key as well, and getting corporate sponsors to donate incentives also was proposed, such as getting Starbucks to donate gift cards as an incentive to get homeless people to participate in the surveys.

Addressing a question about a lack of housing, Fredericks said the Housing Authority is trying to get more landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers.

“We need to continually build that landlord pool,” he said.

Mike Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center, called the effort “groundbreaking,” adding, “We have never in this county made this commitment.”

Those wanting to get involved are encouraged to visit the group’s Facebook page at Common Ground Santa Barbara.

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached atlcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or@NoozhawkNews.

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