We just want to save a life. You can help us save a life — now — today. Together, we can save lives. Tonight, in our community and in this county, there will be over 1,400 homeless individuals. This includes veterans (14 percent) who served for you and me. This includes youth and children under 25 (10 percent), some with parents — many without. This includes seniors, 65 and older (9 percent) who never imagined their golden years to be this. Tonight — in the northern regions of our county alone — there will be over 100 children in a shelter because they have no homes.These are just the ones we know about.

Homelessness as a choice is a myth and an opportunity to avoid action. We know this, because we asked. In 2013 hundreds of volunteers collaborated for the Point-In-Time count, a survey to assess individuals experiencing homelessness. Nearly 50 percent of these individuals reported becoming homeless following loss of employment, loss of homes, and/or other economic loss. Over 55 percent of surveyed individuals lived in Santa Barbara County prior to becoming homeless. Nine percent reported becoming homeless when discharged from military service. These neighbors did not choose homelessness.

Of the individuals surveyed, 56 percent live with mental illness, including schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Without appropriate medical attention and a stable environment, many will resort to self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs. These neighbors — our fellow citizens — did not choose homelessness.

Twenty three percent of the individuals surveyed reported physical disabilities. Thirty percent reported surviving severe trauma or violence; 35 percent reported they were victims of assault, including rape, as a result of their homelessness. These souls — our neighbors — did not choose to be beaten, brutalized, assaulted, or raped. They did not choose homelessness.

Everyone has a story. “Homelessness” is a circumstance, not a personality trait. Could you spend night after night without a safe, warm place to sleep, having to use public facilities to maintain hygiene, not even being acknowledged as a human being?

So what are we asking you to do? Get educated. Know the facts and help us take action. Volunteer with support resources like Common Ground, the Freedom Warming Centers, or with local shelters in our community. Do something.

• Educate yourself and others so we may be smarter at addressing homelessness.

• Dispel myths and call for facts so we can work together to bring about change.

• Generate the political will and vision to solve homelessness by calling for the needed mental and physical health-care services. Without such services, the costs to our criminal justice system, hospitals, and society are huge and include a premature death sentence for our most vulnerable neighbors.

• Offer your support to the agencies, shelters, or service providers working hard to navigate individuals and families out of homelessness.

• Volunteer

Contact Common Ground Santa Barbara County http://commongroundsb.org/ or call (805) 451-5604. We offer assistance to create a support system guiding people to their best choices. (Some of our most powerful volunteers are those who once experienced homelessness. They are uniquely able to offer empathy and model how to wade through what is often a long and extremely complex process to housing — even when there is financial means to pay.)

Contact The Freedom Warming Centers Hotline: (805) 324-2372 or warmingcenters@ussb.org or mariawlong@cox.net. The Centers operate emergency homeless shelter locations in Santa Barbara County during rain or severe weather, 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Couples and pets allowed.

It is caring enough to make the time. It is a matter of saving a life. We just want to save lives. Will you help us save a life?


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