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During the early morning hours of Tuesday and Wednesday, hundreds of volunteers patrolled local streets to tally the number of homeless people in Santa Barbara County for the 2013 Countywide Vulnerability Index Survey.
Led by Common Ground of Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness in collaboration with the 100,000 Homes Campaign, this biannual survey called for 500 volunteers to complete a Vulnerability Index and Point in Time Count, gathering information about the state of homeless individuals and families in the Santa Barbara area in an annual event known as “Registry Week.”
According to Jessielee Coley, a UCSB almnus and Volunteer Coordinator with Common Ground Santa Barbara County, the survey is just the begin- ning of an ongoing effort to provide support for homeless people.
“We go through the data from our survey, and find out who the most vulnerable people are, and then we work to house these people. We hold meetings every other week with people from housing and homeless outreach, and we talk about how we can help people with things like housing applications or benefits,” Coley said. “So basically our next step after is to actually work on getting everyone some type of stable residential situation.”
Santa Barbara’s Registry Week included over 500 participants in 2011 — the most volunteers out of all other homeless registry efforts in the United States. Additionally, volunteers completed 1,143 surveys, with housing given to over 100 people identified as ‘most vulnerable.’ This year, volunteers attended training sessions in mid-January at locations in Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara, with a final turnout of about 600 people ready to help.
Surveyors were dispatched in small teams across the Santa Barbra County area, gathering at 4:30 a.m. or earlier to begin the process of finding and conversing with hundreds of homeless residents over the course few hours. Each person or family found underwent questioning for about 15 to 30 minutes, according to Coley’s estimation.
Coley said the groups of volunteers have been met with a good amount of cooperation from those without permanent homes, despite the length and extensive detail of questioning.
“We ask very in-depth questions about people’s health, so that we can see how vulnerable they are. The majority of people handle it very well, and are interested in filling out the survey,” Coley said. “The one thing is that we do go out very early in the morning. But we do try to do out- reach ahead of time letting everyone know that we will be out on these two days.”
Registry Week organizers have already seen indications of improve- ment in the accuracy and quality of information obtained. Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness Coordinator Jeff Shaffer pointed to the growing number of volunteers that were homeless or previously homeless as a huge step forward for the collaborative effort.
“We’ve had a lot more people helping us who are in shelters or on the street, who are very effective at finding people and building up a natural rapport,” Shaffer said. “Two years from now, we’ll make sure to do trainings in shelters, and bring more people who are experiencing homelessness to help us. I think our numbers will be far more accurate; we found more people on the streets in Santa Maria and Lompoc for sure.”
Ultimately, the collective goal of Registry Week’s organizers is to discuss and implement sustainable methods for housing residents cur- rently without permanent homes by considering resources for shelter and mental health care.
Shaffer said a successful plan will require input from diverse areas of the Santa Barbara community.
“Collaboration is the key. The outreach workers, housing, and mental health representatives need to be in conversation with public officials, and those who can provide resources, such as foundations and non-profits,” Shaffer said. “The collaborative idea is the most important, and the fact that so many people come out to help us shows that the community cares about this, wants to see change, and work towards solutions to homelessness.”
Year-round opportunities to volunteer can be found at http://www.com- mongroundsb.org.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of January 24th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.