Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 11:06 pm | Fair 67º


Local News

Vigil Held for Homeless People Who Died in Santa Barbara County this Year

Gathering aimed at bringing awareness to the challenges facing those who live on the streets

Participants gather at the Santa Barbara Courthouse Wednesday night during a vigil that was held to memorialize homeless people who have died this year on the streets. Click to view larger
Participants gather at the Santa Barbara Courthouse Wednesday night during a vigil that was held to memorialize homeless people who have died this year on the streets. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

To bring awareness about homelessness, an intimate crowd in Santa Barbara gathered on the longest night of the year — the winter solstice — to memorialize people who have died this year in the streets.

A handful of community members and activist with the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and Common Ground and Common Ground of Santa Barbara held flame-less candles Wednesday to remember homeless people who have died.

The vigil coincided with similar gatherings around the nation, and since 1992, National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day has been observed on Dec. 21.

“People without homes during the cold, dark nights of winter are suffering, and we must remember that suffering,” said Chuck Flacks, executive director of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness. “It seems a fitting tribute to those who have died homeless, to honor them on this longest night and pledge to do our best to end the suffering of the living.”

Looking at the list of people identified as homeless, 10 were named in 2016 and 35 in 2015.

You’ll notice people named David W., Mary C. and Mark M.

“The last names are protected for confidentiality,” said a speaker to more than 30 attendees huddled in winter jackets and scarves at the Santa Barbara Courthouse steps. 

Candelario Martinez Ceja, 39, is another name to add to the list.

Ceja was identified by Santa Barbara police as the homeless man who died when a fire broke out in drainage culvert under Highway 101 in the city's Lower Eastside on Dec. 5.

Ceja was homeless in Santa Barbara at the time of his death, according to police Sgt. Riley Harwood.

Flacks noted that homeless death statistics are still being compiled by the county's Public Health Department in partnership with law enforcement, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Office and social service agencies.

The number of homeless deaths has dropped since the availability of health care through the Affordable Care Act, as well as local outreach organizations and services such as Doctors Without Walls and Common Ground Santa Barbara County, Flacks said.

“Sadly, we are busier than ever,” said Doctors Without Walls Executive Director Maria Long. “We are active and we are busy. I am more than honored to help.”

The biggest need for homeless people is housing, Flacks said.

The number of shelter beds during the cold winter months is nearly adequate to provide places for people to sleep who want it, he said.

“Ultimately, we want no one to have to die on the streets for lack of housing and supportive services,” Flacks said. 

He noted the work of locals shelters such as the Freedom Warming Centers of Santa Barbara, the 100 beds expanded capacity during the winter months at PATH, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, the Good Samaritan Shelter and Transition House. 

Some individuals don't want to abide by the rules of shelters, or can't live in a shelter environment, Flacks said. 

County statistics on homelessness have been reported by the Public Health and Social Services departments, Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, the Sheriff’s Department and community collaborators.

The highest number of homeless deaths occur during the winter season, according to data compiled in 2009 to 2011 by the Santa Santa County Homeless Death Review Team.

The report shows those who died in the county tended to be white males, non-Hispanic, 50-59 years old, and who have died due to alcohol and drug-related issues — either overdose or chronic health conditions from using substances, Flacks said.

Additionally, the data indicate that 5,247 individuals were counted as the “reasonable estimate total persons experiencing homelessness” in the county from 2009 to 2011.

The number of deaths for 2011 decreased by 25 percent over the last two years, “although (it’s) much to early to predict this decrease as a trend, and there is much more work to be done,” according to the report. 

The study also noted that “by its very nature, homelessness is impossible to measure with 100 percent accuracy.”

At the end of the memorial service, supporters handed out information about the Point in Time Count, a survey of unsheltered and sheltered homeless individuals across the U.S.

The data collection is set for Jan. 26., and will take place across the county. 

Local organizations are seeking volunteers to participate from 5:15 p.m. to 9 p.m.

To learn more visit,

Santa Barbara’s annual vigil on Wednesday has taken place for the past four years, and the public was invited to attend.

Flacks said he recognized only one homeless man who attended the ceremony.

“The realities for people are very complex, and each person has his or her own story,” Flacks said. “The best solution is finding housing for people and giving them the services they need to keep them housed.

"Given that we know how to solve the problem, it seems almost a crime that we continue to neglect these vulnerable people.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >