Santa Barbara Rescue Mission persists amidst COVID-19 challenges

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Ethan Vaughan

The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s main location, located on East Yanonali.

Dylan Ferguson, Staff Writer

The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission (SBRM), a local organization that serves the homeless population, has made significant adaptations in the last year to its programs in order to remain operational within COVID-19 protocols. The organization offers two programs: homeless guest services, which consists of immediate help in the form of food and shelter, and a residential treatment program, which takes the form of a 12-month rehabilitation course. 

The programs offered by the Rescue Mission are residential, meaning any person who shows up can get a bed to sleep in that night, hygiene products, two meals and a shower. This setup makes COVID-19 testing crucial at the Rescue Mission. Through its partnership with Santa Barbara Public Health, the Mission has teams who come and test all of the guests twice each week. Rolf Geyling, president of the Rescue Mission, stated that they “require all clients to test negative prior to admission into any SBRM facility.” 

In the case of an outbreak, the mission’s main resource is a hotel facility run by Santa Barbara County Public Health for individuals who are unable to isolate and safely quarantine. There is limited space to quarantine individuals onsite. 

Aside from testing, the Rescue Mission also works diligently to keep current residents safe each day. Geyling stated, “Our priority has been to keep individuals safe as many have elevated risk factors. We have instituted and maintained vigilant practices of cleaning, masking, physical distancing and keeping various client populations in separate cohorts as we are able.” The organization has also reduced occupancy in most spaces to facilitate more extensive distance between those who are sleeping, eating and bathing.

Geyling emphasized that the work of the SBRM is “often a key lifeline for individuals in life-threatening circumstances.” Despite any challenges — related to COVID-19 or not — the organization will “remain committed to serving them despite heightened risks and inconvenience.”

On the topic of COVID-19 vaccines, Geyling commented that “we strongly advocate individuals getting vaccinated and are especially encouraged by the J&J single-shot vaccine, as that will be much easier to administer [to] a transient population.” In addition to this strategy, the SBRM direct care staff has already been vaccinated due their inclusion in Phase 1A of California’s vaccination plan. Geyling also noted that SBRM is not “authorized to administer vaccines, but will work with Santa Barbara Public Health to facilitate access for clients.”

The organization, which has been offering services since 1965, has two facilities: the main site located on East Yanonali, where the immediate shelter and men’s residential treatment program are located, and the Bethel House Downtown, which houses the women’s residential treatment program. 

The Rescue Mission’s dedication to the community has been a gift, one that some current students and Westmont graduates have experienced. Sydney Azzarello, a second-year student who interns at SBRM, shared that working at an organization “that emphasizes building relationships with people who are dehumanized so often is really special.”

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