Ensuring Safety and Shelter for Our Clients
As soon as the pandemic started, we adapted our service delivery model and expanded our service offering to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of our clients. Our most important priority early on was to protect our medically vulnerable, unsheltered clients from contracting the virus.
We sheltered 50 people in motels county-wide for several months and transitioned many of them into permanent housing. Programmatically, we consolidated our Safe Parking clients into fewer lots where they can access a restroom facility 24/7, and also so that they can practice social distancing.
Our staff are working incredibly long hours to help our clients; on the right, our Housing Retention Specialist, Rhandi LaChonce, is seen geared up in full personal protective equipment to help one of her clients carry his belongings from an encampment to a motel.
We were also immediately able to transition all of our counseling clients to our new telemental health platform through a partnership with Zoom and Cottage Health. We met all fee reduction requests associated with job loss, provided accelerated training to more than 40 of our mental health professionals, and built a telemental health platform operating at the highest security standards. In addition, we began offering mental health services for free to first responders.
Addressing Food Insecurity
Delivering Food to Seniors and Other Vulnerable Clients
Addressing food insecurity has been another major focus area for us, as many of our clients have lost their jobs or are seniors or are people who have a disability. Over the course of four months, we distributed 1,813 meals to 201 of our clients. During this time, staff and board members also delivered food twice per week to our seniors, our medically vulnerable clients, and to our veteran clients living at Johnson Court, the newly established veteran housing complex in Santa Barbara – part of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.
Supporting our Veterans
In North County, our Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program Manager, Victor Virgen, has ensured food security for his clients, and on one occasion, delivered food to more than ten of his clients living in motels in a single afternoon. To supplement the food we were purchasing from the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, we purchased $10,000 of food out of pocket and have also received more than 175 boxes of items from donors through our Amazon Wish List that we were able to distribute to our clients. We also distributed hygiene kits donated by Direct Relief, as well as art kits that were donated by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In total, we fed 135 people weekly through our efforts.
Private Donors and Collaborations
We also helped establish a collaboration with SB ACT, Acme Hospitality, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, and CityNet to arrange for healthy meals to be prepared by restaurants such as the Lark and Loquita. These meals were paid for by private donors, including the Julia Childs Foundation, and distributed to our homeless clients, as well as other homeless clients being served by CityNet, for several months.
We are grateful to the Santa Barbara Foundation, United Way, the Hutton Parker Foundation, and other foundations and community members for providing us with essential funding through the COVID-19 Joint Response Effort. We also would like to thank the Zegar, Kind World, Barker, St. Francis, and DVNF Foundations, as well as the Starfish Housing Committee and our many donors who have supported our work during this time!