Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Every two years, county officials take a Point-in-Time count of individuals experiencing homelessness. The count serves as a snapshot of just how many homeless people are in Santa Barbara County on any given night, and the results directly affect the level of funding from the state and federal government toward resources for these individuals.

The Santa Maria/Santa Barbara County Continuum of Care handles the planning and completion of the count, and this year’s organizers are currently seeking volunteers to help serve as the boots on the ground for the 2022 Point-in-Time count, which is scheduled for Wednesday, January 26, from 5:30-8:30 a.m.

Jett Black-Maertz is a Housing Program Specialist with the County of Santa Barbara and lead staffer at the Continuum of Care. She has worked in homeless services since 2010 and has been directly involved in the Point-in-Time count since 2018.

“All state and federal funding available to our community is informed by the outcome of the count,” Black-Maertz said. Government funding sources use this year-over-year data to determine funding levels for resources, she said, in addition to helping decision-makers plan housing, shelter, and services to have the greatest impact.

Volunteers will be trained virtually the week before the count and will be directed on how to best approach and engage individuals in the area they are assigned to cover. “Overall, volunteers should remember to be respectful and treat everyone they encounter with dignity — make eye contact, smile, ask before sitting down next to someone, and honor requests not to participate,” she said. 

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Black-Maertz said the count is not meant to be invasive, and all individuals are approached and questioned on a participatory basis. Volunteers are advised to approach, say hello, introduce themselves, and explain that they are a volunteer with the annual one-night homeless census. Volunteers will also provide “incentive bags,” which include hygiene items, socks, and a gift card to a chain restaurant where they can get a warm meal. “We do find that when people are awake and approached by volunteers, they are likely to answer some or all of the survey questions,” Black-Maertz said.

The county-wide effort covers the entirety of the county and takes into account factors like age, race, gender, the number of times they have been homeless, disability status, and several more. In Santa Barbara County, organizers are also attempting to determine where people first experienced homelessness and — if outside the county — what brought them to Santa Barbara. “In 2020, we found that over 75 percent of people experiencing homelessness had their most recent permanent address in the County of Santa Barbara,” Black-Maertz said. This year’s count will also be asking questions to find what impact COVID-19 has had on the homeless people in the county.

According to the 2020 results, 1,897 individuals were counted, with the largest number counted in the City of Santa Barbara. This number included 1,223 persons experiencing unsheltered homelessness and 674 persons living in emergency shelters or transitional housing. In 2017, the official count was 1,860, with a notable shift between sheltered and unsheltered persons between 2017 and 2020.

Volunteers must show proof of vaccination and are encouraged to sign up in teams with people they already interact with regularly. Masks and hand sanitizer are required and will be provided for volunteers. More info can be found at

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