Common Ground Santa Barbara puts a face on homelessness


Burning the morning oil:
Common Ground Santa Barbara member Mark Watson (left) prepared his team to embark on the first of three early mornings, Feb. 28 through March 4, to survey people sleeping on the street in Santa Barbara. The survey was conducted to connect with, and collect data about, the county’s homeless population. As of press time, there weren’t any photographs available from the North County effort. According to a Common Ground press representative, most of the people surveyed were illegal immigrants who didn’t want their pictures taken.

Results are slowly trickling in from the far-reaching survey of Santa Barbara County’s homeless population earlier

this month.

The nonprofit organization Common Ground Santa Barbara recruited volunteers in all parts of the county to gather information about the area’s most vulnerable residents Feb. 28 through March 4.

The volunteers approached people living on the streets and families living in homeless shelters to ask them questions about their health history and living situations. The survey is designed to provide government agencies with more in-depth data for fund allocation.

According to Sylvia Barnard, co-leader of Common Ground Santa Barbara and executive director of Good Samaritan Shelter, volunteers surveyed approximately 350 homeless individuals and families living in Santa Maria and Lompoc.

“This includes homeless families, so it could have been a head of household who has three kids with her,” Barnard explained, adding that the majority of homeless people living in North County are part of a family unit.

“[The survey] was a really great way to bring people together to serve a purpose in the community,” Barnard said. “I think when most people think of someone who’s homeless, they think of the stereotypical Caucasian male living under a bridge. This really put a face on it. Most of the homeless in North County are receiving welfare or are in the foster care system.”

But she said gathering information about the county’s most vulnerable population also had its challenges.

“Some people refused to take part in the survey,” Barnard said. “It’s hard … some of the people didn’t want to talk to [the staff] because they got kicked out of Good Sam because they broke the rules. We talked to one family with 12 kids living in a garage.”

Everyone approached by volunteers received hygiene kits and $5 phone cards, and some people received medial attention. Volunteers also documented homeless individuals and families so the organizations can keep better track of them in the future.

Once all the data is tabulated, Barnard said, it will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for review. Common Ground members and other local officials hope that the more in-depth survey data will bring in additional money. Homeless abatement programs are historically under-funded throughout the country because, among other factors, the population is hard
to assess.

When the money comes in, Common Ground will partner with other local organizations—such as the Central Coast Rescue Mission, Santa Barbara County Housing Authority, and county Public Health Department—to provide much-needed services.

Barnard said the data, funding, and services will probably fit under the umbrella of Bring Our Community Home, Santa Barbara County’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. The survey information will be used to identify people who are most in need and prioritize them for housing and services through programs like the upcoming Rancho Hermosa and Casa de Familia affordable housing projects.

Barnard said her organization is planning to hold a public debriefing on the survey in Los Olivos in the next few weeks.

The Common Ground survey is part of the nationwide 100,000 Homes Campaign, which aims to find homes and additional services for the nation’s homeless population.

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