Today marks the last day of the sixth annual Project Healthy Neighbors, an outreach event at Casa Esperanza Homeless Center that provides free services for the transient population.
Amenities range from haircuts to medical testing that includes HIV and STD screenings and vaccinations. Among the clothing items donated were between 600 to 700 pairs of shoes.
Volunteers are also handing out backpacks filled with items purchased with a $10,000 grant.
According to Ralph Barbosa, project director for Project Healthy Neighbors and program administrator of Healthcare for the Homeless, community outreach programs are creating a “vulnerability index” to identify the homeless demographic and what illnesses they are most susceptible to. Participation is voluntary and information is used to prioritize medical equity and risk.
Mayor Helene Schneider said PHN and the vulnerability index are integral to decrease the spread of diseases in Santa Barbara.
“Having this [event] happen means there won’t be outbreaks of tuberculosis, the flu and other illnesses amongst this particular group of people [homeless individuals],” Schneider said. “Creating [the vulnerability index] is really going to help us figure out where the gaps in services are and how we can help fill them in. They way I look at it is it raises health awareness for the whole Santa Barbara community.”
Follow-up services will be available at Casa Esperanza daily for the homeless who attended the event. According to Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza, the downtown shelter provides clinical services 40 hours per week.
“All the folks that come through are going to be connected with the Public Health Department and they’ll follow up,” Foley said.
The event is supported by Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Cottage Health System, Bringing our Community Home, Reaching Out To Homeless Veterans and individual volunteers.
According to Barbosa, one such volunteer is local teenager Spenser Wyatt, who raised the majority of the money to buy the donated shoes.
“Spenser Wyatt just celebrated his bar mitzvah, and instead of asking for a gift, he asked for donation for this cause,” Barbosa said. “He’s really a hero in our eyes this year. He raised a bit of money and all of that money went towards the project and shoe purchases.”