One of Santa Barbara County’s best tools for combating homelessness is gearing up to hit the streets again this January, and organizers are looking for about 500 volunteers to make it happen.
Common Ground Santa Barbara is asking the public to help administer vulnerability surveys to people living on the street. It’s the biggest effort to gather data about the county’s homeless population to date, and seeks to find out how to best connect homeless people with services to get them into housing.
In January, they’ll be doing a point-in-time count to find out how many people are experiencing homelessness countywide while also doing a vulnerability index that determines which people are most needy, based on age and physical and mental health.
“It’s going to give us needed facts to see what we’re dealing with in each geographic city and what resources do we have,” said Jeff Shaffer, organizer with Common Ground as well as coordinator with the Central Coast Collaboration on Homelessness, or C3H.
The first vulnerability survey was conducted in 2011, and the group has seen enormous success since then. Shaffer said they’ve been able to arrange 68 housing placements, moving 106 people into housing, including individuals and families.
The survey also yielded some surprising findings. Among them were that the surveys found that almost half of all homeless people surveyed reported they lived in Santa Barbara County before being homeless.
“That was surprising,” Shaffer said. “There were a lot of people with opinions about it, but I don’t think we knew.”
Santa Barbara County was also one of the first places to incorporate the family vulnerability index, which looked at how families ended up on the street, and how they could be best helped.
In addition to his work with Common Ground, Shaffer is also working as the newly implemented C3H coordinator, a position funded by sources such as the county and city of Santa Barbara and that works to make sure all of the efforts to target homelessness in the county are working together effectively.
Shaffer told Noozhawk he is optimistic about the C3H effort.
“I think it’s going to be really effective because there were a lot of partners that were never fully brought in and a lot of conversations that needed to happen that are now happening,” he said. “We’re all dealing with some of the same people; we’re not able to talk about it, so there’s a revolving door for so many clients that we’re throwing money at. If we just talked more ... then he or she or the family might find the help they need and not be in the system anymore.”
The organization needs 500 volunteers for this effort again this year, and Shaffer said people wanting to volunteer should go to CommonGroundSB.org to sign up right away.
The effort will hold three volunteer training days — Thursday, Jan. 17 in Santa Maria, Friday, Jan. 18 in Lompoc and Saturday, Jan. 19 in Santa Barbara.
The survey will be conducted Jan. 22-23. Volunteers must agree to do one of the trainings and conduct surveys on both Jan. 22 and 23.
Shaffer said it’s a great event to be with people from the entire community who care about homelessness.
“It’s also eye-opening to see what homelessness really is like,” he said, adding that it’s also a good way to connect to long-term volunteer opportunities through Common Ground.
In addition to volunteers, the group is also looking for financial donations for items to be given out to those on the streets, such as socks, as well as items needed to do the surveys.