The Metamorphosis Continues

By Jon Vreeland   |   March 1, 2018
Both Art pieces by Pedro de la Cruz, local artist and Santa Barbaran

Just last year in the dawn of November, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission (SBRM) and Frank Schipper Construction began a $10-million renovation on the organization’s 30-year-old building at 535 East Yanonali Street. The devoted neighbors of the 101 freeway and sanitation plant on the southern end of town is the same building that – according to Rolf Geyling, president of the non-profit organization – feeds and houses up to 200 men and women a day among the homeless guests and clients who reside in the successful drug and alcohol treatment program.

For now, the half-a-century-old organization can only house 40 overnight guests: 18 men and 22 women. When it comes to the men, all bear some kind of medical issue – either physical, mental, or both. And for the women, director of homeless guests for the past year, Stacy Ralston, says the 22 are the “most we’ve had,” and that maybe 20 to 25 percent of the women have issues with addiction. Stacy adds that at least five of the women work full-time jobs and simply cannot afford the rent here in Santa Barbara (which according to is $1,850 for a one-bedroom), and that more than just some guests simply have no family they can retreat to at all, for that loving assurance only their own DNA can bring.

According to statistics on, for a family of four to live in Santa Barbara California, the family needs $3,321.91 a month to live. But that’s not all. This number excludes rent (which in most regular cases is half of the renter’s bills). Also, and remember, without rent a single person (who we may also recognize as the male species) will need $916.51 to reside alone, and not with total strangers, in the sparkling crusts of the America Riviera, where like everywhere else in California the workers’ minimum wage is $11/hour.

After speaking with numerous Santa Barbarans over the years – who for one reason or another are or have been without a home – I’ve learned that a lot or half of these men and women – mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters, and brothers – trudge the city without a single family member left in their lives at all, if they had anyone to begin with. Nobody to run home to when times get tough. No brother or sister to text and celebrate a new job or retirement. No resurrected dreams of a solid childhood from a simple phone call (most likely to a landline if it does exist) – just a family of the dormant psyche in the shadows of opaque dreams.

On the other hand, the director of communications and constituent relations, Rebecca Weber, says the number of dinner guests remains, and that the 53-year-old program can always feed as many people as needed, and never send dinner guests away hungry. Every day at 6 am and 6 pm, the Rescue Mission feeds around 100 guests for breakfast and dinner: burgers, spaghetti, lasagna, a salad bar with fresh watermelon and fruit – conventional meals to which Americans are accustomed. 

As of right now, the city of Santa Barbara has more than 90,000 citizens, and the “average monthly net salary (after tax) is, $4,150” per The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission can normally house around 100 hundred homeless men and women a night. And with the temperatures in Santa Barbara down to the high 30s as of late, PATH has kept their word and opened 100 beds, during the 40-and-below temperatures. 

For now, in the City of Santa Barbara, that’s 140 beds for those who fit the descriptions already mentioned, and two hot meals and a cot as they wade through the world’s perpetual inflation amid the deprivation of a loving, or living, mother and father, waiting for the train to sing them to sleep in their cozy nook where, hopefully, nobody will report them for vagrancy – another bill that may just go delinquent.

But founders Chuck and Mary Pope not only opened the Mission to help the homeless eat and get a place to sleep (the capacity started with six overnight guests) but a drug and alcohol treatment program that welcomed the drunk, the addicted, the soon-to-be perished and diseased if their ways didn’t change. What has evolved into the year-long inpatient drug and alcohol treatment program the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission offers – which, according to the organization’s website, show around a 53-percent success rate for graduates in their first five years of post-program tribulations: a stellar statistic – continues to be one of, if not the only, residential living rehab and homeless shelter in the entire city.

In 2018, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s drug-treatment program continues to be well-respected within the walls of the Santa Barbara Courthouse: “The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission is a wonderful organization that has helped a lot of people in this town,” says Annie Hayes of Hayes and Hayes Law Firm in Santa Barbara. “Not only do they offer daily services for people in need, but they offer life-saving programs for both men and women who struggle with drug or alcohol addictions, and who may be reintegrated into society following incarceration.”

That being said, a recent graduate of the SBRM drug-treatment program, Bronson Thomas Sr., continues his journey into a new-fangled world of sobriety – with a talent he discovered throughout his sober journey that began as a homeless dinner guest not two years ago. Now that he is a Santa Barbara Rescue Mission graduate, he attends Santa Barbara City College, where he also tutors English. And just before the end of 2017, on December 29, Thomas Sr., who once was a lost soul and claimed to “have no life,” submitted a poem to Tuck Magazine and is now a published poet:

How painful the frost of the morning, yes, how wicked is its bite
It took all day yesterday to thaw out from the previous night
Stomach growls from the painful hunger, at least I wasn’t abruptly awaken
Beaten by prowling transients left bleeding and violently shaken
Never drank alcohol or smoked crack
All I want is my childhood back”
– a stanza of “What Mourning?” by Bronson Thomas Sr.

Now, as for the remodel, the productive aftermath of the dual disasters has consisted of massive footings dug six feet into the earth – metal beams as long as a school bus delivered to the (let’s just say “odoriferous” when the wind gusts north) job site, dropped in the small but noisy backyard under the cacophony of the 101, then installed into the buildings’ structural evolution. This stage of the renovation the average guest or passerby cannot see unless he or she stands between the naked walls and on the bare cement floors; however, the new gargantuan footings and trenches filled with rebar and cement are footings big enough for a grown man to be buried in while standing up, and can be considered the most vital stage of what president Geyling calls a “long overdue” project. 

The Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s next graduation is on Friday, March 23, at Calvary Chapel. On Thursday, March 29, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm is their Easter Feast in the decorated dining hall at 535 East Yanonali Street in lower Santa Barbara. The phone number at the Rescue Mission is: (805) 966-1316.


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