Coalition plans to count, interview homeless

By Glenn Wallace/Staff Writer | Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011 12:00 am

How many homeless people are on the streets in Santa Barbara County’s cities? How many wander the more rural portions of the county, spending their nights camped out under bridges that cross the Santa Ynez River, or parked in cars in the corners of shopping center parking lots?

No one knows for sure, which is a big part of the motivation behind an effort to make an accurate count of Santa Barbara County’s homeless.
A group called Common Ground Santa Barbara, representing a coalition of nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups and government agencies from across the county, is coordinating an ambitious survey project later this month.
“We’re going to attempt to count every person who is homeless in our county. Not just count them, but then actually interview and evaluate them,” said Mike Foley, executive director for the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter in Santa Barbara, and a co-executive director of the countywide 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.
But as Foley and other supporters of the Common Ground Santa Barbara effort made clear at a recent public meeting in Lompoc, such a survey would take a large volunteer effort from every community in the county — roughly 500 individuals.
This week, the group reported that 267 volunteers had signed up, but the big majority were on the South Coast.
A broad spectrum of Lompoc community figures, ranging from law enforcement to church leaders, attended a meeting Feb. 7, representing what Common Ground representatives said they hoped would become the “group leaders” to help lead the Lompoc Valley volunteer effort.
Among them was Airman 1st Class Julian Newby, who said he would be spreading the call for volunteers at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“We’ve got a lot of people on base who like to volunteer all the time,” Newby said.
Those volunteers will be put to work during “Registry Week,” Feb. 28 through March 4. For the first three days of the week, volunteers will search throughout their community, beginning as early as 4 a.m., to contact and interview as many homeless people as possible.
With their consent, the homeless people could be asked a 37-question survey called a “vulnerability index.” The index asks where individuals come from, how long they’ve been homeless, if they are veterans, and asks about potential causes of homelessness such as disability and illness.
Survey results are designed to be easily entered into a database which will include photographs of homeless who agree to have their pictures taken. All the data from the survey would be available by March 4.

Foley said such an extensive survey would provide “real facts, not opinions,” about local homelessness, and would help agencies and politicians make better policy and funding decisions.
“This is exciting because this is giving us real data,” said Sylvia Barnard, executive director of the Santa Maria-based Good Samaritan social services nonprofit group, and co-executive director of the countywide 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.
Foley said the Common Ground survey method and the vulnerability index questionnaire, used in New York City to reduce homelessness around Times Square, are a fast and effective way of gaining real data on the homeless situation. He said a sample survey, which included 500 homeless in Santa Barbara, was used to identify the 50 most vulnerable people on the streets in November.
“And the sad news is, two of them have already died,” Foley said.
The countywide goal for this first year of the survey is to provide housing for the 100 most vulnerable homeless — half from the North County.
The deadline to sign up as a volunteer is Feb. 27, when mandatory training meetings will be held in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. A third location in Lompoc may also be added, according to Barnard.

For more information, or to sign up as a volunteer, go to

The deadline to volunteer is Feb. 27 for a project that will try to interview every homeless person in Santa Barbara County in the hope of giving data to policy-makers.

For more information, go to www.commongroundsb .org.

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Posted in Govt-and-politics on Thursday, February 17, 2011 12:00 am