Homeless in Santa Barbara | Santa Barbara Community Street Voice

Registry Week Training Day

A remarkable thing happened at the volunteer training for Common Ground Santa Barbara’s Registry Week on Sunday.  Most of the 300 people signed up to survey homeless people living in shelters and on streets between Isla Vista and Carpinteria actually showed up for instruction. And then there were those who showed up for training who hadn’t signed up at all. In the end, the total number of South County volunteers was around 350, said Rob Fredericks of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB). About 150 more North County volunteers were having their own Sunday afternoon trainings in Lompoc and Santa Maria too.

According to Common Ground national leaders, with its final number of 492, Santa Barbara County has recruited more volunteers than any of the cities and towns involved in the 100k Homes campaign to date.

The mood in Warren Hall at Earl Warren Showgrounds was one of upbeat excitement with a discernable lack of frenzy. There was a bottleneck at the sign-in tables at first, but by 1:40 pm, people had settled at their tables, (all 78 of them) with their folders containing samples of the documents they would need for the 3 days of surveying beginning tomorrow.

Mayor Helene Schneider, herself a volunteer, addressed the gathering right off the bat.

“I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to do something so important,” said the Mayor. “We want to figure out how to get this complex problem under control here, then maybe we can be a model for communities elsewhere.

Council Member Grant House was present too. Apparently, Council Members Randy Rowse and Bendy White were slated to help out as well.
Volunteers cut a swath through Santa Barbara’s socio-economic strata. At least five currently homeless people, living in shelters or vans, were preparing to help out. Don Olson, a city planner for 13 years and now a Housing Authority Commissioner, was present, as were many, if not most, of the South County’s homeless outreach workers, public health nurses, social workers and shelter managers. It was a veritable who’s who of Santa Barbara’s go-gooder community.

After a brief discussion of the beautiful weather outside, Don Olsen said, “Yeah, I could be doing a lot of things. [But] this is important work. And the information we’re going to get is going to be very valuable for the community as a whole.”

Dr. Mimi Doohan, founder of Doctor’s Without Walls-Santa Barbara Street Medicine and the person responsible for introducing Common Ground to Santa Barbara, gave the 411 on the Vulnerability Index.
Being an unsheltered homeless person is one of the most lethal conditions any person can experience in America or anywhere, she said. People who live on the streets are 3 to 4 times more likely to die prematurely than the general population. The surveys, which ask questions about the person’s health history and living situation, will help the Common Ground leaders discern who is  at greatest risk of dying. Housing will be prioritized based on that risk.

“What you’re doing is directly saving lives,” said Doohan.
A high point of the training was a short movie about Nick Ferrera’s journey into and then out of homelessness. Ferrera, who writes for this blog, wanted people to see that it’s possible to return to full capacity after living on the streets for years. He is also a Common Ground leader, and instrumental in creating the maps that the various volunteer teams will use when they look for people to survey. Common Ground Santa Barbara has set a goal of housing 100 chronically homeless people in a year’s time.

On Monday morning, volunteers will show up to their various, assigned outposts in either Isla Vista, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Lompoc or Santa Maria, at various times. In the city of Santa Barbara volunteers are will arrive at their outpost at 4 am. In Carpinteria, people will begin their surveying at 6 am. In Isla Vista, the surveying will also begin as 6 am. They will hook up with their respective teams, get their maps, their bags of phone cards and granola bars–thank you gifts for participating—and head out.

Lilli Doner is a medic at Santa Barbara Middle School. She heard about the campaign from a former Middle School Student who volunteers with Doctors Without Walls.

“Homelessness to me is something I don’t even know what to do with.,” she said. “It’s such a big thing. The opportunity to know them as individuals and maybe help get them off the street is so exciting I can hardly stand it.”

By Isabelle T. Walker

Photo of Santa Barbara City Mayor Helene Schneider Addressing South County Common Ground Volunteers on Sunday, February 27th.