Hundreds of volunteers will take to the streets early in the morning on Wednesday, Jan. 29, to help run Santa Barbara County’s Point-in-Time count. The count, sponsored by United Way, aims to gather accurate data about those who are living on the streets.
Homelessness is not a new problem for the area. Roughly a quarter of all Americans without homes live in California, a number that has seen a statewide increase of 17% since 2018. According to the 2019 report, that number sits around 1,803 in Santa Barbara County –– half of whom live in the city of Santa Barbara.
The Point-in-Time count has normally been held every other year. However, 2020 will mark the second consecutive year, with the hope that more current data will lead to better federal and state funding. As stated in last year’s report, “the Santa Barbara County Continuum of Care receives approximately $2.5 million dollars annually in federal funding, which is a key source of funding for the county’s homeless services.”
Volunteers helping with the count will travel routes in every census tract in the county, led by a guide familiar with street living. In exchange for $5 food and coffee gift certificates, along with new socks and toiletries, homeless individuals will be asked to respond to a survey, seeking to detail demographic information, the number of sheltered vs. unsheltered individuals, and duration and frequency of homelessness. Also assessed are mental and physical health conditions.
Part of what the report aims to do is seek the underlying reasons behind chronic homelessness. Numbers matter, but so do solutions. A recent report by CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy), a tenants rights group, found that 2,677 units of high-income rental housing have been built within the last few years, compared to only 306 new units for low-income tenants. The report also highlighted a 27% rent price increase over the last five years, compared to an 8% increase in median wages. Furthermore, it was found that there were nearly 10,000 vacant housing units in Santa Barbara county — a shocking number, especially compared to the far lower number of homeless individuals.
These issues are not lost on Rob Fredericks, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB). At a fall press conference, he stated that the results of the CAUSE report reveal “that we have a big crisis in Santa Barbara.”
That’s why HACSB, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, created a five-year action plan to ensure affordable housing for the city’s lower-income residents, including the homeless. Among the objectives of the plan are to “create and preserve quality affordable housing opportunities,” as well as strengthen their relationship with the city to continue supporting lower-income and homeless individuals.
Progress is being made, but there is still work to be done in the city. Volunteers will start the
process of counting and surveying individuals at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The county hopes that a better understanding of our community members without homes will lead to more efficient solutions to this crisis.