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Counting the Most Vulnerable People in Santa Barbara County


Young volunteers helped assemble the tools of engagement for the survey. From left to right: Kennah Shaffer, Kalum Shaffer, Cayden Tuttle, Kairos Shaffer

More than 600 volunteers woke up early in the morning to walk the streets of Santa Barbara County in California and survey people experiencing homelessness as part of the biennial Point-in-Time survey, held over two days at the end of January.

Each small group of volunteers took with them lotion, sunscreen, and Neosporin donated by Direct Relief as well as granola bars, socks, and a brochure on local social services provided by other local businesses and individuals.

While seemingly small items, these served as “tools of engagement” to help initiate a friendly conversation between the volunteers and the people they surveyed.

“Outreach items serve as incentives for individuals and families to take the survey, while also helping them meet some of their most basic needs,” said Jeff Shaffer, community coordinator for the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness.

“They also serve as relationship starters – an easy way for volunteers to begin the conversation with people they have met on the streets or in their vehicles for the first time,” he added.

The survey – which includes questions about medical history, veteran status, history of homelessness and more – is conducted as part of a the national Point-in-Time index required for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Santa Barbara County survey also includes a Vulnerability Index developed by local groups to attain additional information.

The results and data from the survey are used throughout the year to help connect people in need with service providers. Since the first survey was conducted in 2011, more than 1,000 people have been placed in housing, reports the Santa Barbara Independent.

Beyond the quantitative data, the survey also serves as a way to develop relationships between volunteers and people in need in their community, fostering a better understanding of homelessness and the people experiencing it.

Direct Relief is honored to support the work of its amazing local partners – Common Ground Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness – in this important survey that seeks to ensure the most vulnerable people in the community are counted.

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