More than 6,300 homeless people walk the streets of Santa Barbara every year, with 900
of falling into the category known as “chronic homeless.” On Thursday, March 20, Dr. Wayne Mellinger, Antioch University sociologist professor and a counselor at New Beginnings, put together an event catering to over 350 members of this group at the Santa Barbara Veterans Memorial building.
“We came up with the idea, and we executed it in 60 days,” Mellinger, who ran the event. The event aimed to provide information about vital services to area homeless, especially those who might not seek it out otherwise. In the spirit of the Maundy Thursday and the Easter season’s spirit of new beginnings, foot washing was available, along with new clean socks and shoes donated by various shoe suppliers around Santa Barbara. Volunteers took down the shoes sizes and style preferences - hiking boots, running sneakers, skateboard shoes, etc. - of the homeless people they encountered on the streets and informed them of the event and the address of where they could pick up their shoes. At the event, 250 pairs of shoes were named, ready to be picked up by the intended owner. “The shoes are representative of a fresh start,” Mellinger said. “New shoes and socks and clean feet, ready for a new start.”
Services such as Project Recovery, Pacific Pride, Santa Barbara City College Alcohol and Drug Counseling and UCSB’s Street Health Outreach Program set up tables around the courtyard and passed out both information and supplies to homeless men and women. While UCSB students handed out hygiene kits and McDonald’s coupons, Pacific Pride distributed various forms of birth control. Each of the tables offered some form of aid and seated organization representatives.
“It’s a day that has religious affiliation, but it essentially represents new beginnings. We are hoping this will give some of these people the chance for new beginnings and opportunities,” Melligner explained. In fact, despite foot washing’s Christian association, the event was sponsored by a variety of religious associations, including Unitarian and Jewish groups. When asked about the event, one homeless man said “It feels good to know I got people who know what I need to survive. Being on the streets isn’t good. It’s nice to have this [kind of support].” Between drug and alcohol counseling, free health clinic information, bagged lunches, and candy bars and dog treats, no one left empty handed. “This is definitely something we will continue,” Mellinger said. “Whatever we need to do to raise awareness and supply outreach service to those in need should be done.”
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Maude Kusserow is an Independent intern.