Drop-In Needed

In an August 22 news article, “Shelter Cutbacks”, reporter Nick Welsh states that Casa Esperanza’s drop-in center “operated on the theory that if homeless people were allowed to hang out long enough, eventually they’d avail themselves of some of the many on-site counseling, training, and rehab services.”

Actually, no one believes that just sitting in a drop-in center will motivate a person to seek help by some sort of osmosis. People in need accept help when they are welcomed and treated as worthy and dignified human beings, so that an initial level of trust develops between them and the staff member, professional, or volunteer at the center. The trust is the base from which they begin to seek ways out of their trying situations with the guidance and encouragement of that other person.

A drop-in center can operate as simply as offering coffee and friendship, and making referrals to other agencies that offer services. Ideally, a basic center would also offer showers, storage lockers, a mailing address and volunteers who are willing to accompany a guest to places or appointments that are beyond the person’s capabilities to accomplish alone.

Alternately, a drop-in center can be as complex as offering all those services right in its own building, which I believe was the “one-stop” model that inspired the development of Casa Esperanza. The public should not underestimate the value of having many services in one place. Navigating the complex system of health care, mental health, Veteran’s Affairs, Social Services, and Social Security in this county is challenging for any adult and requires a lot of buses and footwork for those without a car. Introduce a physical disability, mental health issue, poverty, or addiction, and it becomes exponentially more difficult to remember appointments and then get to offices all over town. Not to mention remember what paperwork to bring — and figure out how to pay for it.

As the supervisor of Homeless Guest Services for the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, my job will be harder with the closing of Casa Esperanza’s Day Center. The Rescue Mission offers emergency and transitional overnight shelter and meals. I have referred many of the men and women who stay with us to Casa Esperanza for a variety of services. Many times they found success with just that extra boost. Now, our guests will be faced with trips to agencies all over town, which will mean increased time, energy, money, and frustration to get the help they need to move forward. Those who do not stay with us will also be dirtier and hungrier without the Casa Esperanza showers and lunch, which will only make it that much more difficult to focus on the higher order things they need like jobs and housing.

Santa Barbarans: Come visit me at the Rescue Mission, and I will introduce you to decent men and women who are homeless for reasons other than laziness or lack of character. Indeed, they are the majority of the 120 or more men and women who stay with us every night, even though we are a “no questions asked” shelter and accept people who have mental health and addiction problems. Yes, and even the ones who are suffering those afflictions are decent people given the right atmosphere and help. And please, support the reestablishment of a large or several smaller drop-in centers in Santa Barbara County.

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