In an effort to prepare local transients for the upcoming winter months, community members from many different professions are coming together this week to conduct the 3rd annual Project Healthy Neighbors.

The services offered at the event range from haircuts to comprehensive healthcare. Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter is hosting the project and is also utilizing the resources of more than 16 different organizations, including Domestic Violence Solutions and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, to meet the homeless community’s needs.

Project Healthy Neighbors began yesterday, and will continue through tomorrow at Casa Esperanza, located at 816 Cacique St. in downtown Santa Barbara. The event is open to all local transients.

SB County Public Health Dept. Director Dr. Elliot Schulman said the program’s success is due in part to the dedication of the program staff, and also said that access to healthcare is especially important in the winter months.

“An event like Project Healthy Neighbors is a success because of the commitment of the people involved,” Schulman said. “The number of people served through this program has exceeded all of our expectations. Access to preventative health care and other services may mean the difference between life and death for the most vulnerable in our community during the winter season.”

According to Health Care for the Homeless Program Administrator Dana Gamble, Project Healthy Neighbors was born out of a policy enacted by local homeless shelters. The policy required potential shelter residents to undergo testing for tuberculosis. Gamble said that instead of just helping the homeless get tested for TB, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept. decided to create a program that would compile a wide array of services to promote overall health.

Every person served will receive a gift bag provided by the organization Families Uniting to Nurture Dreams, which includes sweatshirts, socks, rain ponchos, toiletries and other necessities.

Meanwhile, SB County Public Health Dept. Maternal and Child Health Director Sandra Copley will be working with 25 volunteers to give vaccinations to the approximately 300 homeless people who come to her. Both the volunteers and the people they serve, she said, are happy to participate in the program.

“Everyone is really positive, and the homeless are incredibly grateful,” Copley said.

Gamble said the government helps the homeless both out of empathy and to boost community economy. She also said that a flu shot is measurably cheaper than hospitalizations resulting from people sick with the disease.

“It’s the right thing to do, and it just makes sense to do it,” Gamble said.