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Volunteers Take Stock of Santa Barbara County’s Homeless Populations with ‘Point in Time’ Survey

Every two years, local organizations count the number of homeless people and document their personal circumstances

They’re so visible, yet so often unseen. Solutions to their circumstances are a frequent topic of discussion for government and nonprofit entities, yet their numbers never disappear.

On Thursday, volunteers from around Santa Barbara County took stock of the county’s homeless populations, recording how many people do not have a place to live and what their circumstances are.

Every two years, local organizations undertake the Point in Time Count. Though this year’s data is still coming in, the 2013 and 2015 surveys revealed about 1,500 homeless in the county at any given time, said Chuck Flacks, executive director of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, or C3H.

In a partnership with Common Ground Santa Barbara County and AmeriCorps, C3H asked homeless folks to come to centers throughout the county to be counted, and sent volunteers out into known hotspots of homelessness.

Flacks said roughly 200 volunteers participated, recording data and participants’ responses on phones.

The count is actually mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which doesn’t fund the surveys, but uses their results as a basis for federal funding for homeless services.

This year, volunteers asked the people they surveyed about their age, ethnicity, mental and physical health conditions, whether they’re veterans, and how long they’ve been in Santa Barbara County — the latter a way of distinguishing who is a long-term resident and who is just passing through.

“In terms of our chronic homeless population, in terms of people living on the street, I think Santa Barbara is sort of in line with most counties,” Flacks said. “We’re not significantly better, and we’re not significantly worse.”

He said one of the biggest factors behind the county’s homeless situation is a lack of affordable housing.

“Homeless people are kind of like the canary in the coal mine. … If people are noticing more homeless people on the street, it’s because there are fewer and fewer units available for people to live in. That’s independent of people’s mental health, independent of people’s alcohol and drug problems.”

This situation is exacerbated, however, by what Flacks called the U.S.’s mental-health crisis.

But there’s still reason to be optimistic, he added.

“One of the things that I’ve been very encouraged by is the degree to which we have a real synergy between law enforcement, social service agencies, nonprofits, city and county government agencies and concerned people to really try and see this problem as one we can come together on.”

Flacks said public presentations that will include the count’s data will likely begin in March at city council meetings and the county Board of Supervisors.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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.

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