Homeless in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara Community Street Voice

Registry Week, Day One

At 4:15 am Monday, the first wave of Common Ground volunteers was already out the door of the Louise Lowry Davis Center. Wearing hats and scarves against the cold, and carrying bags of supplies, each team of four or more had its own “zone” within the city to scour. But no matter where the maps had sent them, the goal was the same for volunteers from North to South County: find homeless people and ask them to participate in the survey. Phone cards and granola bars would be offered as thanks.

The 4 am Santa Barbara crowd included Mayor Helene Schneider, City Council Members Grant House and Randy Rowse, and Sharon Byrne of the Miplas Community Association (MCA). Schneider and House, on the same team, were headed for the area encompassing the Paseo Nuevo Mall and streets west to De La Vina and North to Carrillo Street. Similar scenes were taking place—albeit at a slightly later hour—in Goleta, Carpinteria, Isla Vista, Lompoc and Santa Maria. Thirty-one teams were dispatched Monday in Santa Barbara, nine in Goleta, ten in Carpinteria and six in Lompoc.

While most of the Santa Barbara teams were assigned zones in the city’s core, a few “guerilla teams” were tasked with finding the homeless people who live in remote camps. These teams were led by veteran outreach workers and formerly homeless people with close ties to the community. David Hopper Hopkins, who was homeless for ten years in Santa Barbara, and nearly died twice, led one of these groups. He is now a housed, drug-and-alcohol counselor and outreach worker. Also on his team were Lisa Bidlow, who was homeless for three years here, and Jennifer Ferraez, a mental health outreach worker with the County’s Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services’ (ADMHS).

Hopper’s team began their surveying at Circle K on the corner of Milpas and Cacique Streets. At 6 am, he and Bidlow were already in the throws of surveying two people. One of them revealed his name and age to me: Sticks, or Ken Tischer, age 66.  Before moving along, Ferraez had surveyed an additional homeless woman who was on her way into the store for coffee.

In another 20 minutes, the team was walking along a brushy, out of the way corridor, but the campers they expected to find were gone. Ten minutes later, they came across a Latino man in his early 60s walking near Carpinteria Street. He agreed to be surveyed, as did seven other homeless men the group met on East Beach.

“This is the first time that anything good for the homeless has come to Santa Barbara,” said Hopper from a grassy spot he frequented in his homeless days. “This is the first time that all the agencies are trying to get people off the streets.”

All in all, Hopper’s team had completed 8 surveys in two hours—a better than average showing.

Back at the Louise Lowry Davis Center at 8 am, Common Ground leaders were packing up for the day. All of the teams, minus Hopper’s, had returned to hand in their surveys and upload their photographs. They had brought in a total of 70 Vulnerability Indexes and Point in Time counts, said Jeff Shaffer, a South County Common Ground leader. The surveys were being taken to the Housing Authority offices, where they would be scanned into a computer for tabulation. (None of the information is going to police, Common Ground leaders emphasized.)

Later in the day, Mayor Schneider said her surveying work had gone well. Her team, which consisted of six people, separated into three groups of two. She and her teammate had interacted with five homeless people, and two agreed to take the survey.

“It was more of a real experience, as opposed to hearing about it from other people,” recalled Schneider. “Everyone was kind . . . They’re just people who don’t have shelter. Having a conversation with them was just like having a conversation with anyone else.”

Schneider said both of the people she helped survey had been living in Santa Barbara for many, many years. That question is one that the more conservative Council Members, and residents, will be watching carefully as the data rolls in. Many of them contend homeless people come to Santa Barbara specifically because the city provides services to help them.

Meanwhile, volunteers were reporting that the surveying in other areas had gone well too. In Carpinteria, Debra Barnes said her volunteers had covered long distances in rural areas to survey six homeless campers. One of them, according to Barnes, was a newly homeless person living in a car. In Goleta’s first sweep of the morning, the goal was to mainly locate where people’s RVs were parked so they could return later and get Point in Time counts. Later in morning, they managed to get 11 surveys. In Lompoc, Mike Foley said the six teams dispatched to the city’s center did not come across many homeless people, On Tuesday, Lompoc teams would be entering the river bottom, which has been at times highly populated by campers.

Meanwhile, Point-in-Time counts, an equally important part of the survey project, were completed at Casa Esperanza and the Rescue Mission Sunday night. Eddie Tyrell, a residential Treatment specialist said they also completed 25 Vulnerability Indexes. He said they did not have the time or staff to complete indexes, which take 15 to 20  minutes, on everyone who came to the mission’s emergency shelter Sunday night, so they targeted the people they deemed most fragile.
All the volunteers, save one or two, would be returning Tuesday morning for a replay of Monday’s events. Some will be given new zones to scour, others will be sent back the same ones, looking for people they missed Monday.

Imelda Loza, who is the executive administrator of Casa Esperanza, said her team had been was sent to Oak Park on Monday, where they found no one. But they did find one man sitting on a bench outside Cottage Hospital’s Emergency Department. He’d been released from the ED earlier in the night, but did not want to go to Casa Esperanza, where medically fragile homeless people are ordinarily discharged. With nowhere to go, he opted to stay on the bench.

Loza said the man, in his 60s, was more than willing to take the survey.

By Isabelle T. Walker

Photo of volunteers walking the streets of Santa Barbara before dawn on Monday, by  Nick St.Oegger.