[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 article.]
Encouraged by promising results from a variety of innovative programs to reduce homelessness in Santa Barbara, SB ACT will be meeting with key constituents to assess progress and future goals.
Entering its third and final year, ACT on Homelessness is one such collaboration.
Among others is the lived experience group, comprised of people who were formerly homeless or are currently experiencing homelessness. This group has become more formalized under the supervision of SB ACT.
Rich Sander, SB ACT’s executive director, told Noozhawk that his organization has applied for grants to provide financial support to members as they are furnishing valuable feedback that deepens understanding and informs policies.
He said he’d also like to expand countywide and have current members speak publicly about their experiences.
“Living on the street is demoralizing,” said Jen, who experienced homelessness for one year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “To know that there are people in positions of power who truly want to hear what I have to say is incredible.”
Jen, who worked for Santa Barbara County Superior Court for 15 years experienced depression, turning to alcohol during the pandemic shutdowns, eventually losing her job, home and car.
“I thought living on the street would be like camping, but it’s not like that at all,” she confessed. “It’s terrifying.
“SB ACT valued my voice and the organization has been pivotal to getting me off the streets. I can’t rave about them enough — they provide a hand-up, not a hand-out.”
Jen and her boyfriend, Brandon, have now been housed for one year, and she said SB ACT has been with them every step of the way — as the transition back to being housed is an adjustment as well.
Both she and Brandon give back, participating as lived experience leaders, attending meetings, sharing information and volunteering at community events.
Another woman experiencing homelessness recently attended the Eastside neighborhood navigation center to apply for jobs. Staff from the Santa Barbara Public Library were on hand to help her manage the job search, aligning her interests and skills with potential positions.
The woman ultimately completed an in-depth application and online assessment for a position at the post office, with the skilled guidance of library staff. The application was successful and she received a job offer as a mail processor.
These are just two stories in a database that SB ACT collects to track results of their programs.
A grant from the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara will help the organization expand outreach and case management at weekly neighborhood navigation centers. This is often the first step in assisting individuals to make the transition out of homelessness and into long-term stable housing and job placements.
For more than a decade, SB ACT has been spearheading large-scale and neighborhood-level initiatives focused on homelessness prevention, housing and shelter, housing retention and lived experience throughout Santa Barbara.
In Goleta, SB ACT oversees a regional action plan (RAP) that identifies high-impact encampments and coordinates government agencies, service providers, and advocates in their work to reduce homelessness.
The RAPs — which also operate in Santa Barbara’s Eastside, State Street and waterfront neighborhoods — generate dialogue and action among residents, business owners and service providers. It’s also a tangible way for community members to get involved.
“We are grateful for SB ACT’s work and positive community impact,” said Robin Elander, executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara. “SB ACT has served as the facilitator to connect many of the homeless service organizations with our business community, providing a critical service.”
In addition, Elander said, the organization schedules walks dedicated to State Street and the waterfront areas to further establish connections within the business community and to put names to the faces of those experiencing homelessness.
Many of those experiencing homelessness are also experiencing mental illness.
“Behavioral health is a huge component of homelessness so we are collaborating with the City of Santa Barbara to develop working groups to figure out how to get aligned with best practices and communicate that to the general public,” Sander explained.
“We want to help educate the community on what to do if they see someone having an episode.”
Barbara Anderson, senior assistant to City Administrator Rebecca Bjork, lauded the full scope of SB ACT’s collaboration.
“A valuable attribute of SB ACT is their ability to stay on top of best practices,” she noted. “They are able to research what’s happening across the nation and tailor to our local needs.
“SB ACT helps us listen and learn and experience what’s happening outside of our region.”
In fact, SB ACT is in the process of taking what it has learned to Carpinteria and Montecito, forming a South Coast coalition.
“We want to see what collaboration can look like between municipalities,” Sander said.
SB ACT welcomes the input of community members and encourages people to get involved.
If you see homelessness in your neighborhood, you can join a RAP and help institute change.
“Often the strongest voices become the best advocates,” said Landon Ranck, SB ACT’s operations manager. “We want to see community members mobilize and know their voice is valued.”
Click here for more information about SB ACT, joining a regional action plan or volunteering. Click here to make an online donation.