We are seniors taking a course titled Honors Contemporary Ethical Issues at The Thacher School in Ojai. In early January, our class embarked on a unit focused on homelessness; our group concentrated on homelessness in Santa Barbara. After conducting research on the current homelessness crisis in the county, we decided to volunteer at the annual Point-in-Time Count on January 24, 2019. We were struck by the lack of shelters in Santa Barbara.
Considering a recent Santa Barbara County survey, 700 people experiencing homelessness in Santa Barbara, we believe that the county should have at least one full-time homeless shelter. (Presently, Santa Barbara shelters operate on a seasonal basis). For example, the Freedom Warming Center is only activated when there is a 50 percent of rain or the temperature is below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Santa Barbara Councilmember Kristen Sneddon aptly stated, “I believe we do have a shelter crisis. Even if we have just 10 people without a bed, it is a crisis. Calling it a crisis is not an issue for me. We really need to get people to shelter.” It is necessary that Santa Barbara provide shelters year-round and not just on a seasonal basis.
Many of the homeless people we interacted with at the Point-in-Time Count were feeling the harmful effects of the cold, and their shelters did not seem to provide sufficient protection from the elements. The morning of the count was around 40 degrees, so they had nowhere to sleep indoors. In November, Santa Barbara County applied for over $6 million in funding to build tiny homes for the homeless. Although it is certainly important to pursue housing options for the homeless, perhaps the county should first invest in what homeless people need immediately: year-round homeless shelters.