Jonathan Hogue gets a flu shot. (Nov. 6, 2012)
Paul Wellman

Every year around wintertime, Casa Esperanza Homeless Center takes a unique approach to serving Santa Barbara’s homeless population. More than just providing food and clothing, Project Healthy Neighbors, in its seventh year, offers a range of health care and other services all in the same place, including flu vaccinations, HIV testing, TB screenings, counseling, and even legal assistance.

“There was nothing like it in the tri-counties area,” said Imelda Loza, chief operating officer of Casa Esperanza. “They used our model and recently did a similar event in Santa Maria.”

On Monday and Tuesday morning this week, Casa opened its doors to homeless people, volunteers, doctors, and nurses. Booths were set up throughout the shelter and labeled with the specific services they provided. On Tuesday morning, dozens of homeless people were scattered around enjoying a meal or coffee, or taking advantage of the free offerings.

“The real focus here is to prevent death because there have been so many homeless deaths,” said Loza, admitting the program can’t reach everyone at risk. But Project Healthy Neighbors offers free backpacks, shoes, raincoats, hygiene packs, and even haircuts to people who take advantage of the program in order to “incentivize” the homeless to show up.

Loza cited flu vaccinations as the most vital service for the homeless because “it helps prepare them for the winter months.” Also, she said that “basic medical reviews are key to see if they have a medical condition that has gone undetected.”

Funding for the $15,000 project was provided by an assortment of nonprofits. The Santa Barbara County Health Department and Cottage Hospital provided doctors and nurses for the event. In years past, an average of about 500 homeless people attended. This year the event was shortened from three days to two, and over 300 homeless and near-homeless people showed up.

“We do this because of compassion, but the services we provide could also end up saving us money,” Loza said. Anyone interested in donating money or supplies for next year’s event should contact Casa Esperanza at (805) 884-8481 or Ralph Barbosa at (805) 450-2579.


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