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County Officials Issue ‘Call to Action’ for Collecting Data About the Homeless

Common Ground Santa Barbara is leading a local effort to recruit 500 volunteers to count and learn more about those living on the streets

Five hundred. That’s the number of volunteers needed to gather data in an effort officials hope will reduce the number of homeless on the streets.

Santa Barbara County is the latest jurisdiction to join Common Ground, a national nonprofit organization working to house 100,000 of the nation’s most vulnerable homeless. Locally, there’s been a dearth of data about the homeless, and although dozens of agencies work to reach out to that population, there’s little collaboration.

But a meeting to introduce the effort to local leaders held Thursday in the Faulkner Gallery of the Santa Barbara Public Library was standing-room only, signaling a groundswell of support.

The movement comes none too soon. Thirty-two homeless people died last year and six already this year on Santa Barbara streets, said Rob Fredericks, deputy executive director and chief administrative officer at the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.

“This is unconscionable,” he said. “We must change the status quo.”

Until now, the status quo has been to merely count the homeless, required by the Housing and Urban Development Department. Santa Barbara County was granted a time extension, and now, instead of just a mere count, Common Ground Santa Barbara’s effort will call on the 500 volunteers to go out onto the streets Feb. 27 to administer what’s called a vulnerability index.

The index will record factors that put a person at a higher risk of death, such as whether the person is age 60 or older or has had more than three emergency room visits in the previous three months. Volunteers will go out between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., as the homeless are just waking up for the day. After the data is gathered, it will be put into HUD’s database.

Once that data is gathered, housing officials can more effectively assess who needs housing the most, as a matter of survival.

“These are our most vulnerable neighbors,” Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said of the area’s homeless. “Five hundred volunteers. ... That’s a lot, but it’s a call to action.”

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and county Housing and Community Development Department director David Matson also spoke, stressing the importance of good data to ending homelessness.

Jeff Shaffer, who works with the homeless at Pershing Park, encouraged potential volunteers who are reluctant to get out of bed and onto the streets so early in the morning.

“There’s nothing like that adventure,” he said with a laugh.

Shaffer assured the audience that there would be team leaders for volunteers. Organizers were even sent to a boot camp in New Mexico last week to learn about the project.

“We’re at a real tipping point on this issue,” Fredericks said. “It’s something we can come together and solve.”

Click here to volunteer or to make a donation to the effort. Click here to join Common Ground Santa Barbara on Facebook.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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