Beautification Day, COVID Style
In an effort to remain as COVID-safe as possible, Montecito Association is hosting a smaller-than-normal Beautification Day this Saturday, November 7, beginning at 9 am. This year’s event will be based at a new location: the upper green on the corner of East Valley Road and San Ysidro Road, in front of Pierre Lafond. After skipping last year’s annual event due to the pandemic, organizers say this year promises to be a fun way for community members to help beautify Montecito and reconnect with their community.
Participants will gather at the green to pick up new reusable safety vests and trash pick-up sticks, paid for in part by both the Montecito Association and Montecito Community Foundation. Breakfast burritos from Little Alex’s will be served before attendees are assigned a trail, pathway, beach, road, or property by MERRAG team members, who are helping to organize the trash cleanup. Montecito Trails Foundation is also participating.
Rather than hand out annual awards, the Beautification Committee will welcome participants back to the green around 11:30 am after the trash pick-up, and invite them to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with friends and neighbors.
“It’s all about reconnecting with the community,” said Montecito Association Executive Director and committee member Sharon Byrne.
The event is chaired by Houghton Hyatt, and the committee also includes Mike Edwards, Mindy Denson, Trish Edwards, Nina Terzian, and Berna Kieler.
Also part of Beautification Day, Hands Across Montecito, the association’s homeless outreach initiative that was launched last year, will be cleaning up the homeless encampment behind Sea Meadow and at Butterfly Lane and the railroad tracks. The cleanup is headed by Andrew Velikanje, the first “graduate” of Hands Across Montecito.
“He was the first person who took our offer of help, and now is giving back to those who helped him,” Byrne said.
Velikanje has started his own nonprofit, Earthcomb, in which he partners with various organizations in order to hire and manage other people who are currently or formerly homeless, paying them to help with encampment cleanups.
“He will be managing a crew of six who will participate in this Saturday’s massive cleanup,” Byrne said, adding that the cleanup would not be possible without the additional help of Heal the Ocean, which is providing the dumpsters, and Giffin Rentals, which is providing an all-terrain vehicle to haul the debris.
Hands Across Montecito (HAM) was launched late last year as a pilot program to help provide outreach and resources to homeless people living in Montecito. Homelessness has increased since the pandemic began in March 2020; at the time the program launched there were about 50 homeless individuals living in Montecito in various encampments near the Bird Refuge, Hot Springs freeway exit, near the Pointe Market on Coast Village Road, the area near the freeway and Coast Village Circle, the area between Olive Mill and San Ysidro roads, and near the railroad tracks near Montecito Shores and Bonnymede.
HAM partnered with outreach coordinators from City Net, an organization comprised of a team of nonprofit professionals who work to end street-level homelessness. Founded by Brad Fieldhouse, the organization was already working in the city of Santa Barbara and partnering with Cottage Hospital to get local homeless people the medical help they need.
The HAM project, which has now raised $108,000 and is coming up on a year since its inception, is a collaboration between the Montecito Association, City Net, Heal the Ocean, Progressive Foundation of Santa Barbara, Montecito Trails Foundation, California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, Montecito Fire, and the county’s Behavior Wellness department. There has been consistent outreach to the homeless, as well as case management, and the program has paid for people to get off the streets and into hotels and shelters. It’s estimated there are about 13 homeless people currently living in Montecito.
“[The project] has exceeded any and all expectations,” said Byrne, who has been deeply involved with the homeless population for years and is passionate about the cause. She said the Hands Across Montecito team is comprised of about 15 “hardcore volunteers” from Montecito who have stepped up both financially and physically to help.
“Not only are they boots on the ground, providing outreach in our local encampments, but they are hand delivering meals to hotels where these people are living, and donating heavily to make this happen,” Byrne said.
The goal is to get the homelessness population to “functional zero,” meaning that homelessness will be rare and turned around quickly when it does occur in Montecito.
“We were super close to zero in July of this year. We were all excited. But unfortunately, the change in seasons has increased the population, and we are working on shrinking it once again.”
With the one-year anniversary of the program approaching, the team wants to keep going, and hopes that the County will implement this type of program in Santa Barbara and beyond.
“In this community, if you are homeless, we care about you and we will continue to help you. But you need to continue to make progress as well,” Byrne said about homelessness in Montecito, adding that those in hotel rooms thanks to the program are actively looking into more permanent housing with emergency housing vouchers in hand.
For more information about Beautification Day and Hands Across Montecito, visit www.montecitoassociation.org.