A collaborative nonprofit working to end homelessness released results Monday from a two-day, volunteer effort to identify the extent of the problem in Santa Barbara County.
A panel of health, housing and nonprofit workers explained survey results in two media briefings in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Of 1,111 homeless people who completed homeless surveys, 80 percent were classified as vulnerable, with an elevated risk of premature mortality.
“When the oldest person that we encounter is 84 years old, something’s wrong,” said Angela Antenore, a facilitator of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness.
She pointed out that most of those surveyed are living with substance abuse or mental illness.
Health reports show that 56 percent of the homeless surveyed in Santa Barbara County battle mental illnesses, and 51 percent suffer from alcohol abuse.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a physical count of homeless people encountered countywide during a predetermined point in time, but Antenore explained that Santa Barbara County expanded required information gathering to form the more detailed Vulnerability Index (VI) surveys for individual and families who suffer homelessness.
On Jan. 22 and 23, more than 600 volunteers reported on demographic, health and financial information about homeless populations through a joint effort between the Good Samaritan Shelter and nonprofits Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H) and Common Ground Santa Barbara County.
“We had more volunteers countywide than anywhere in the country,” Antenore said.
Findings from individual VI surveys:
- Distribution of homeless population and ratios similar to 2011 Survey
- Continued high self-reported rates of mental illness and substance abuse
- High levels of illnesses specific to homelessness, such as weather-related impacts and exposure to violence
- Findings continue to correlate with local public health and national statistics
Panelists said Monday in Santa Maria that the data, compiled from a snapshot of homeless communities, would help aid workers match homeless populations with the most appropriate resources to combat homelessness.
Panelists included Antenore; Rob Fredericks, deputy executive director of the housing authority of Santa Barbara; Sylvia Barnard, executive director of the Good Samaritan Shelter; and David Lennon, medical director for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s Health Care for the Homeless aid program.
Fredericks said the most surprising finding is an increase in family homelessness on the South Coast of Santa Barbara County.
Homelessness reported throughout Santa Barbara County included 51 families in Santa Barbara and 56 in Santa Maria/Orcutt, with much lower totals in Lompoc, Santa Ynez Valley and Isla Vista/Goleta. In 2011, Santa Barbara volunteers reported 30 homeless families, and Santa Maria and Orcutt volunteers reported 77.
Of 182 families surveyed, 122 are vulnerable with an elevated risk of premature mortality; in 60 percent of cases, the head of the household battles substance abuse, and in 53 percent, the head of the household deals with a condition of mental health.
In other family data: 38 percent of the 149 children surveyed included children under the age of 6.
The Santa Barbara County Education Office school district reports that there is a much higher rate of family homelessness than captured through the Vulnerability Index Survey.
Antenore said that when youth age out of foster care system, the risk of homelessness increases exponentially, although survey questions did not track that information.
“Bottom line is we need to make some changes,” she said.
The C3H plans to kickstart a 100-day plan next month in correlation with the 100,000 Homes Campaign to find and house 100,000 of the country’s most vulnerable and long-term homeless.
Locally, organizers are preparing to launch strategy changes to better align the homeless with resources available to help them find homes, such as housing vouchers for veterans. They also hope to assist those who suffer from chronic homelessness and other specialized populations.
Antenore said the changes would help organizers tailor appropriate aid strategies to specific populations.
“We haven’t really had a coordinated effort like this,” she said.
To download complete survey findings, visit: http://commongroundsb.org/vi2013_data_results_final.pdf.