People gather outside the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.
People gather outside the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, practicing social distancing. (Joshua Molina / Nooozhawk photo)

On any given night, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission has about 200 people under its roof. 

The organization helps rebuild people’s lives. So when the governor of California orders a “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing” of six feet apart, the order has a huge impact on some of the most vulnerable people in the community. 

“We had to cut our chapel service,” Rescue Mission President Rolf Geyling said. “We are serving our homeless guests in the chapel.”

The Rescue Mission, PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) and Showers of Blessing, are just some of the groups that serve the homeless who are working hard to prevent a spread within that community. Showers of Blessing plans to hold warm shower services from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Earl Warren Showgrounds on Tuesday. 

So far, the 18 confirmed cases in Santa Barbara County have not involved anyone within the homeless community. 

Organizations such as the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and PATH have dramatically altered their systems to allow six feet of distance among people.

Santa Barbara Rescue Mission is practicing social distancing and is working to prevent a spread of the coronavirus within the homeless community.

The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission is practicing social distancing and working to prevent a spread of the coronavirus within the homeless community in Santa Barbara.  (Joshua Molina / Nooozhawk photo)

“There is always a risk that comes from extending compassion to people,” Geyling said. “We are trying to maintain compassion while being wise and protecting both of our clients and staff. The concern is if we had to go to any strictly adhered policy of shelter-in-place we would have to reduce the number of people we serve.”

For now they have separated people in the dining room, allow people to eat in the chapel and are requiring people to sleep as far apart as possible. 

With the rain over the weekend, the Freedom Warming Centers suspending activities and other factors, the Rescue Mission has seen a dramatic increase in people who are looking for help. This has been coupled with the Rescue Mission reducing its volunteers out of concern for them and the clientele. 

Geyling said there’s particular concern because flu bugs and colds often whip through the homeless community fast and many homeless people have other health risks. Many people in the homeless community also have respiratory problems. 

He said the role of the Rescue Mission is also to help ease people’s minds during this difficult time. 

“We try to love and care for people,” Geyling said. “We are dealing with people who are extremely vulnerable and find themselves in challenging situations. They have a lot of fear and it is not unfounded.”

PATH opened beds to people to escape the rain Sunday and Monday.

“We are taking swift, transparent, and responsive action to ensure the safety and well-being of our clients, tenants, staff and the wider community,” said Grace Gill Qayoumia, a PATH spokesperson, in a statement. “We have developed a statewide strategy that includes implementation of an emergency safety plan, close integration with local public health departments and implementation of preventive best practices like CDC protocol trainings, clearly posted materials in every site, and continued rigorous cleaning and disinfection plans for all locations and vehicles.”

The facility is also limiting clients’ exit and entry to two times per day, unless they are leaving the facility for good, and sleep six feet apart while maintaining a head-to-toe lying formation. The sleeping area is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized each morning.

In North County, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District has agreed to share the Santa Maria High School gym as a temporary satellite homeless shelter.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.