Homeless in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara Community Street Voice

Common Ground Surveying Extended

For three days, small bands of Common Ground volunteers have been searching high and low for homeless people willing to take a vulnerability index survey. They’ve looked for unsheltered humans asleep in doorways before dawn, in camps at daybreak, behind brush and in nooks of parking lots. They’ve knocked on doors of RVs and motel rooms. When found, the awakened don’t always agree to be surveyed—even with the enticement of a pre-paid phone card. But often they do, said Jeff Shaffer, coordinator of South County Common Ground SB.

Meanwhile, news that yet another unsheltered person died on Sunday—a car dweller named Robert—traveled eerily through through the South County, underscoring that these efforts were no exercise.

The tallies for the various cities in Santa Barbara County aren’t complete yet. Campaign leaders extended the surveying for an additional day (Thursday) so they could hit some of the free potluck dinners in Santa Barbara and Lompoc. One campaign leader said volunteers from the Santa Barbara outpost alone brought in roughly 170 surveys. But that doesn’t include Casa Esperanza, the Rescue Mission or the Salvation Army—where tallies will be high. At the jail, Tona Wakefield, homeless discharge planner, did surveys all three days, but couldn’t estimate a total.

Carpinteria teams got 12 surveys in three days—and lots of refusals, said
Debra Barnes of Blanket Blessing Outreach. They’d found a lot of people employed in the fields but too poor to afford housing.  They had yet to make it to the motels, where many house-less take refuge at the beginning of the month.

As of Wednesday night, 256 vulnerability index surveys had been completed in Santa Maria, said Sylvia Bernard, executive director of Good Samaritan Shelter. Most of them were from families, so they likely represent twice that many people. On the streets of Santa Maria, surveyors encountered 15 families living in camps and behind buildings. One volunteer came across a family of 12 children living in a garage, Bernard said.

Nancy Kapp of New Beginnings’ Safe Parking program, said her teams were in the process of visiting the 23 Safe Parking locations, knocking on the doors of occupied vehicles.

Meanwhile, Hilary Petit of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) spent Tuesday in Guadalupe. If you define homeless as someone living outside, there are probably a dozen in this small city. If you include in the definition people couch surfing, or living with someone else, it could well be half the city, said Tensie Hernandez of the Catholic Worker program there. “Multiple people in a house, whole families in one room, people sleeping on couches. People in Guadalupe don’t think of that as homeless. It’s so much part of Latino hospitality,” said Hernandez.

Every Tuesday, many of Guadalupe’s poor come to the Catholic Worker home for free bags of groceries. Among the many who showed up this last Tuesday, three men acknowledged being homeless and agreed to be surveyed.

One was a 48-year-old man who did not give his name. He had been living under a bridge with two other men for three-and-a-half months. Last year, he stayed in the same location most of the year. Unemployed, he says there is no work in Guadalupe right now.

A few days ago, he said through a translator, when it was raining and cold, he and his friends built a campfire to heat coffee. The fire was a little too close to the railroad tracks, and when an Amtrak line passed, engineers called the police and fire departments who dispatched officers. When they arrived they told the men to find another spot to camp.

In Lompoc, when the teams when out to the river bottom Tuesday, they found plenty of camps, with signs recent habitation, but no people. Yet, the river was full and it was the first of the month. People likely sought refuge inside a motel or an abandoned building, said Mike Foley, a team member who lives in Lompoc.

Because the surveying had been extended another day, Friday’s Community Briefing—where some of the results will be shared with the public—has been postponed until next week.

By Isabele T. Walker

The photo is of Tensie Hernandez speaking to a homeless Guadalupe resident at the Catholic Worker House. It was taken by Nick St.Oegger.