By Ryan Nguyen
Published on February 28, 2011
Santa Barbara has an unmistakable and unavoidable homeless problem.
Anyone who lives in I.V. or downtown Santa Barbara knows how rampant the issue of homelessness is. It’s impossible to walk for longer than five minutes without seeing a homeless person sleeping on a bench, in a shed or even behind a trash bin.
The Santa Barbara community gives a lot of attention, time and money to efforts to fix problems all around the world, and deservedly so, but homelessness is a huge problem that is right in our neighborhood and demands our attention at this very moment. Roughly 170,000 people in the U.S. are chronically homeless, having lived on the streets or in shelters for a year or more. From a health perspective, street homelessness has a lethalness comparable to cancer, cutting lifespan by an average of 25 years. Those who are homeless, have serious physical illness, mental illness and also a history of drug or alcohol abuse are labeled as having “tri-morbidity,” a condition that is statistically fatal within five years. Additionally, the repeat visits the homeless make to hospitals place a strain on health care costs and energy.
Various efforts have been made over the years to confront the homeless problem and yet homelessness is all over Santa Barbara. UCSB prides itself on being a premier leader in research, so isn’t it time for Santa Barbara to apply the same care of the scientific process to finding a solution to homelessness?
Enter Common Ground
For the week of Feb. 28 through March 4, Common Ground, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness, will be conducting a registry week to canvass and quantify the homeless population of Santa Barbara county. In doing so, Common Ground will use the data and apply the “Vulnerability Index” to take the guesswork out of outreach and offer a research-based system to identify the most vulnerable homeless for housing. The Vulnerability Index is a tool used for identifying the most at-risk in the homeless population and is based on the research of Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless organization, led by Dr. Jim O’Connell. Common Ground found remarkable success in the past with a similar effort in Times Square reducing homelessness by 87 percent in just two years. These results provide hope for an incredible change in the homelessness problem of Santa Barbara, but the effort is still in need of more volunteers to help find our homeless neighbors and administer the Vulnerability Index.
It is time the UCSB community takes action toward a problem we see every single day. Be a part of a crucial turning point in the history of American homelessness and advocate on behalf of those who are at most risk. At this point 292 volunteers have already signed up to volunteer for registry week, but more volunteers are still needed. To find more information please visit the Common Ground website at commongroundsb.org.
To find out more about health care for the homeless, please visit santabarbarastreetmedicine.org.
Ryan Nguyen is a third-year microbiology major.