County agencies and local nonprofits are working together this winter to decrease instances of transient individuals dying from exposure to harsh weather conditions.
In 2010, 31 people died while living on the streets in Santa Barbara county.To prevent future homeless fatalities, Santa Barbara County Housing and Development and the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center are providing several warming centers to act as shelters when county facilities have already filled all their beds. Authorities say these measures are responsible for the reduction in transient deaths in the area over last year.
“Last January, about four people froze to death in about the period of a week,” Casa Esperanza director Michael Foley said. “That is the worst it has ever been. This winter isn’t even close to last winter in terms of freezing deaths.”
According to Foley, increased financial support from the county has allowed Casa Esperanza to double the amount of beds they offer. Some of the warming centers that double as shelters include the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and the University Religious Center in Isla Vista.
“Last January, we began working to open churches, but this year we have actually been able to get funding for these centers,” Foley said. “More people will be able to find warm places to go.”
However, despite additional funding, Housing and Redevelopment Manager of the City of Santa Barbara Brian Bosse said county shelters are still operating on limited financial resources.
“The warming centers have helped the homeless and the county is putting $51,000 towards that effort,” Bosse said. “It is a small amount compared to what is put to other services like transitional housing or Casa Esperanza, but we are trying to work with the homeless. These centers are still on a tight budget.”
Foley said student volunteer services are important for the continuous maintenance of the shelters’ functions.
“It is important for students to care about the issue of homelessness,” Foley said. “Every night, there is a winter shelter open in Isla Vista. They need people to go out and encourage people to go into the shelters. Volunteering is very important.”