John Bowlin of PATH Santa Barbara
John Bowlin, left, PATH Santa Barbara’s associate director of philanthropy and community affairs, acknowledges the key role that PATH volunteers fill in the nonprofit organization serving the homeless. “Volunteers are the heart and soul of PATH,” he says. “If it weren’t for all the hours they donate on their own time, we would not be able to run PATH.” (PATH Santa Barbara photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: Third in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first article, and click here for the second.]

PATH Santa Barbara has served more than 3,500 people and helped 475 homeless residents make the transition into permanent housing since coming to Santa Barbara six years ago, an effort only made possible by the help and collaboration of many local organizations and businesses.

“Homelessness is such a multifaceted issue, there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” Tessa Madden Storms, the nonprofit organization’s Santa Barbara regional director, told Noozhawk.

“We’re constantly evolving, we’re constantly saying ‘what can we do in partnership to help better serve the people who come through our programs?’”

Storms acknowledges that there’s no single solution.

“There are so many different facets of homelessness, so many things that play into that, so many barriers, and so many resources,” she said. “It really takes that careful collaboration and coordination to get that commitment of togetherness from other providers.”

The Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation (SB Act) was brought on by the City of Santa Barbara two years ago as a third-party coordinating body that ensures PATH is setting specific plans for homeless services and making sure that all partners are coming to the table, Storms said.

“They’ve had their hands in a little bit of everything, they are really critical to PATH’s success,” she continued. “They’re helping facilitate these conversations and helping people come together to have these much-needed discussions.”

Storms described SB Act as the coordinating body that brings everyone together to develop a true community action plan to address homelessness issues.

Path Santa Barbara

High school and college organizations volunteer their time to prep and cook food, set up dinner service and serve PATH Santa Barbara residents. (PATH Santa Barbara photo)

“They’re very solutions-oriented, and that’s what we are at PATH, too,” she said. “It was really neat to see them come on board with that mentality and we quickly latched onto that.”

Jeff Shaffer, director of initiatives at SB Act, said the organization works through collective impact, creating a common agenda for the whole community. SB Act created a three-year agenda, running community action plans on the Eastside, the waterfront and State Street, he said.

“The whole goal of collective impact is getting everyone going in the same direction with the resources that they can provide,” Shaffer said. “There are all these pieces that you have to put together to solve this puzzle, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

SB Act brought PATH into monthly community meetings in which service providers, city staff, council members and business members are all present, Shaffer said.

“Most of the time the business community and residents don’t see the impact and success that PATH is having,” he said. “At these monthly meetings, PATH is able to present numbers and data so the community can see the inside story instead of just seeing the problems in their neighborhood.”

SB Act works with the Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness Department, CityNet and other co-response groups to operate homeless outreach programs.

PATH also partners with many local government agencies, including the City Council, the Police Department, the county Board of Supervisors, Behavioral Wellness, and the county Probation and Public Health departments, among others.

Path Santa Barbara

Volunteers from a large number of community groups pitch in to help PATH Santa Barbara with its mission. (Path Santa Barbara photo)

The government entities make up a “third body” that oversees PATH’s homeless service providers to help dictate where the funding rolls out, Storms said.

“They play a huge role in funding the work that we do and helping guide the political policies around homeless services,” she added.

The Behavioral Wellness Department helps with homeless services and outreach teams countywide, and has a large partnership with PATH on the South Coast, said Suzanne Grimmesey, spokeswoman for Behavioral Wellness.

“When people stay at PATH, some have compiling mental health needs, and our connections help to provide that support,” she said. “When we’re working together as a community to try and end homelessness, it really takes collaboration.

“I don’t think any one agency can do it alone, PATH and Behavioral Wellness have been very strong partners in that goal.”

A Public Health team is onsite at the PATH shelter, located at 816 Cacique St. on the Lower Eastside, every day from 8 a.m. until noon, Storms said. She extolled the impact of having an on-site clinic for the general homeless community to come in and be able to access medical services over the last year.

Cottage Health provides PATH up to 90 days of support and 10 beds for the recuperative care program, which provides a place for those experiencing homelessness and have acute medical needs to recover, said Monica Ray, program manager for Cottage Population Health.

The county’s largest health-care organization also provides an on-site registered nurse to assist patients with achieving their medical goals, she added.

“These individuals who are experiencing homelessness so often have medical needs that go unaddressed,” Ray said. “Having a hospital and health-care providers that partner with the shelter is critical — critical to the overall wellbeing, health and success of these individuals.”

Ray said one of the housing dorms at PATH is solely for patients in the Cottage Health partnership programs. In the winter, Cottage partnered with PATH and the Public Health Departmet to provide on-site COVID-19 testing for all the residents, she added.

PATH also has a long list of community volunteers who donate food, help prepare meals and even do community clean-up events, said John Bowlin, PATH’s associate director of philanthropy and community affairs.

“Volunteers are kind of the heart and soul of PATH,” he explained. “If it weren’t for all the hours they donate on their own time, we would not be able to run PATH.”

Mu Delta, a pre-medical fraternity at UC Santa Barbara, has many members who volunteer at PATH on a weekly basis, and the fraternity holds occasional clothes drives so that PATH can contribute clothing to its residents as needed, said Rahim Burdette, Mu Delta president.

“With many members volunteering on a weekly basis and the fraternity as a whole coming together to organize various clothing drives for PATH, we are glad to be helping out our local community experiencing homelessness,” he said.

“Mu Delta’s efforts are important in the fight to end homelessness as this fight must be understood through multiple lenses to be combated effectively, including but not limited to community awareness, understanding the implications of experiencing homelessness on health care, and most important, showing compassion and empathy on the individual level to those who are experiencing homelessness.”

Members of Boys Team Charity, a volunteer service organization dedicated to developing an altruistic spirit in young men, assist with prepping and cooking food, setting up dinner service, and serving food to the residents and visitors at PATH.

San Marcos High School junior Jordan Lind and his brother, Jaden, have been volunteering at the PATH shelter nearly every Saturday evening since May 2020 after PATH lost many volunteers due to the pandemic, he said. The brothers have volunteered more than 150 hours since then, he added.

“Volunteering at PATH has been incredible,” Lind said. “We have gotten to know many of the residents and it is very emotional whenever a resident ‘graduates’ to a transfer house toward independent housing.

“When we see any of the residents around town, it is always great to say hi and to check in on how they are doing.”

Oceanhills Covenant Church supplies gifts during the holiday season so that no one at the PATH shelter goes without a Christmas present, said Daniel Johnson, Oceanhills’ director of compassion, mercy and justice ministries.

The church distributes excess grocery items from PATH to people staying temporarily at motels or in encampments, and occasionally chops vegetables in the back to make sure dinner gets served to the guests on time, he said.

“Alleviating homelessness, if it’s to be a fruitful effort, must be a collaborative effort,” Johnson said. “I like to think of an organization like PATH as one of the fundamental, mechanical components of a motor, and Oceanhills is something like the lubricant to simply help that motor do what it’s designed to do.”

Among the other community groups that volunteer at PATH are Teens on the Scene, Westmont College, Antioch University Santa Barbara, UCSB, Crane Country Day School, Cate School, First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara and Trinity Episcopal Church.

“These volunteers make sure that our residents are taken care of, they make sure that projects that we need support with get completed, and what I hope they walk away with is that they feel invested and dedicated to PATH,” Bowlin said.

Click here for more information about PATH Santa Barbara, or click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Jade Martinez-Pogue

Jade Martinez-Pogue, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.