By Alonzo Orozco, Contributing Writer

Rob Fredericks, co-chair of Common Ground Santa Barbara, reveals findings from the organization’s homeless survey recently conducted in the county. – Photo by Alonzo Orozco

In front of a large gathering of concerned citizens and a handful of politicians and media, Rob Fredericks, co-chair of Common Ground Santa Barbara, on May 9 revealed the long-awaited statistics concerning the county’s homeless population at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Los Olivos.

Common Ground SB, working in conjunction with the National Common Ground Non-Profit (whose goal is to permanently house 100,000 homeless people across the United States by July 2013), has a great deal of work ahead of them if they plan to reach their goal of finding homes for 100 of the county’s most long-term and vulnerable homeless in the coming year.

“It really is a tool project for identifying and prioritizing, based on risk factors for premature death,” said Dr. Takashi Michael Wada, director of SB County Public Health, explaining the Vulnerability Index Survey used to identify those with the most needs. The model for the county differs somewhat from the one being used nationwide. Taking into account warm-weather risks and including individuals age 50 and older, as opposed to the national scale of those 60 and older, were a couple of variables that that were included locally but not considered in the cold-weather, East Coast national study.

In order to be identified as a part of the Vulnerability Index, members of this population had to be homeless for at least 6 months, and one or more of a number of other factors that ranged from being hospitalized (or have visited the emergency room) three or more times in the past year to having HIV+/AIDS, liver disease or the end stages of Renal disease.

Wada rattled off a list of conditions that were found as a result of the survey, pointing out the predominant ones that grouped together all mental illnesses and alcohol abuse.

The group of 500 volunteers, who at the end of February to early March of this year conducted the search, encountered 1,536 people and was able to obtain 1,173 surveys completed from the displaced individuals. According to the criteria of the county’s Vulnerability Index, 79 percent of those were classified as being high-mortality risks. The data collected covered a wide variety of categories with statistics indicating the age, occupation and race, just to name a few markers.

Fredericks singled out one interesting number discovered from the survey. 30 percent, the highest level of those surveyed, listed their education level as having attended some college. “Homelessness is affecting everyone, regardless of their education level,” said Fredericks, whose primary occupation is that of Deputy Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara. His city had the highest amount of homeless contacts by far, with 1,040 individuals. Santa Maria was second with 243, and there were six contacted in the Santa Ynez Valley.

What steps need to be taken in order to reach Common Ground SB’s goal of housing 100 people come next year? Whatever progress is involved, the main emphasis was placed on a need for a collaboration of the philanthropic community, elected leaders, landlords, the faith community, service leaders and other organizations to find homes and keep this demographic housed. An important cause that certainly hits home.