Doctors Without Walls
A Doctors Without Walls team takes a break at an SB ACT Neighborhood Navigation Center at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. The centers bring service providers and case managers to locations where the homeless congregate. Credit: SB ACT photo

[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first article.]

Hutton Parker Foundation

Santa Barbara’s homeless problem has grown increasingly visible over the past several years, with makeshift shelters lining the freeway and sleeping bags tucked into vacant storefront doorways all over the city.

It’s a crisis that has been years in the making, exacerbated by poverty, increased housing insecurity, and a greater number of mental health, drug and substance abuse issues.

Yet, what may be less visible is the impressive work of the Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation, or SB ACT, the nonprofit convener that organizes dozens of entities throughout the greater Santa Barbara region to help combat the crisis.

SB ACT has been central to the community for more than a decade, and over the past three years its efforts to address homelessness have amplified as a result of a strategic plan that strengthens collaboration among nonprofit organizations, government agencies, business leaders, faith-based organizations and a number of community advocates, with a shared agenda and specific, measurable goals.

“This is the first time that homelessness has been elevated to this level of importance in the city,” said Barbara Anderson, senior assistant to City Administrator Rebecca Bjork.

She told Noozhawk that the city is seeing positive results.

“We had a street exit goal of 100 individuals and were able to exit 99 in the last fiscal year,” noted Anderson, who added that the city is on track to meet that number again this year.

In addition, 629 people were placed in permanent housing with supportive services countywide in 2021, versus 344 in 2019. Rates of those returning to homelessness have remained low, decreasing to 1.6% in 2021 from 3.2% in 2019.

SB ACT executive director Rich Sander and Katherine Soto-Vasquez, associate director of programs, at the SB ACT Neighborhood Navigation Center at the commuter parking lot on the corner of Castillo and West Carrillo streets. “The coordination is key,” Sander says. “When coordination isn’t there that’s when things break down.” (SB ACT photo)

“The key piece to our success is having an organization that isn’t competing for the same limited resources of every other nonprofit service provider,” Anderson said. “SB ACT’s only objective is bringing organizations together to work more effectively and efficiently.

“All of our agencies are doing incredible work, but together we are able to reach more people, and engage with individuals at every stage.”

SB ACT interacts with those experiencing homelessness as they enter the system, tracking progress along the way, and measuring success in its totality.

That totality includes 87 medical encounters, 907 showers, 87 animals receiving care and 758 meals shared.

Most of these interactions take place at SB ACT’s neighborhood navigation centers (NCC), which bring service providers and case managers to locations where those experiencing homelessness congregate, meeting people where they are.

Each NNC caters to the needs of the populations they serve, with support offered weekly at Alameda Park, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and the commuter parking lot at Castillo and West Carrillo streets downtown.

“It’s a one-stop shop, allowing my clients to get many of their needs met,” said Cristina Garcia, lead case manager at City Net. “The navigation centers are crucial, enabling me to engage with clients on a consistent basis and identify others who can benefit from our services.”

Garcia told Noozhawk that 30% of her clients came from initial meetings at the Rescue Mission’s NNC. That figure contributed to an increase of 25% in case management outreach overall — another goal of SB ACT’s strategic plan.

These meetings are the first step in helping to get people off the streets.

From July 1 to Sept. 30, Garcia engaged with 26 people experiencing homelessness at the commuter lot who were not enrolled in City Net services, and of those, she enrolled seven into City Net’s system, relocated one and exited four to bridge housing.

Members of SB ACT’s Homelessness Lived Experience Working Group at an SB ACT Neighborhood Navigation Center at Alameda Park. (SB ACT photo)

Of the 30 people she encountered at the Rescue Mission, she enrolled 11 into services, exited one to permanent and two to temporary housing, and relocated one individual.

And of the 19 people she met at Alameda Park, 12 were enrolled into City Net services, while seven exited the street and were placed into temporary shelters.

“SB ACT is instrumental at breaking down silos and bringing people together in collaborative spaces, while holding us all accountable” said Jeff Gaddess, director of South County Homeless Programs for Good Samaritan Shelters.

“I could not succeed in my position without SB ACT. They are the coalescing force in our community to bring us all to the table.”

Gaddess credits SB ACT with contributing to the success of DignityMoves, which placed six people in housing in just the first few months.

The housing issue is the most critical in ultimately resolving the homeless crisis, and it represents the most significant aspect of SB ACT’s work.

The organization seeks the partnership of community members as well, through its regional action plans (RAP). The plans bring together business leaders and residents in high impact neighborhoods to address community concerns and coordinate service provider responses.

“The coordination is key,” said Rich Sander, executive director of SB ACT. “But it doesn’t pull on donor’s heartstrings like a hot meal or shower.

“And yet, when coordination isn’t there that’s when things break down.”

Click here for more information about SB ACT, or click here to make an online donation.

Ann Pieramici

Ann Pieramici, Noozhawk Contributing WriterNoozhawk Contributing Writer

Ann Pieramici is a Noozhawk contributing writer. She can be reached at