The Hands Team Takes on the Point

By Sharon Byrne   |   February 28, 2023
Hands Across Montecito volunteers Tracey Willfong and Ron Sickafoose interview DJ. The Hands team has been working to move him out of homelessness.

We’ve written in these pages before about how the Hands Across Montecito project is a solid outreach team that helps people leave homelessness in our area. In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) required every jurisdiction to perform a point-in-time count of the people living unsheltered to allocate funding for homeless services and housing. 

The Hands team met at the Franklin Neighborhood Center to deploy on a cold January at 5 am. We were given a map of our terrain, gift cards, and hygiene kits to distribute to the people we interviewed. Joining me were Montecitans Tracey Willfong and Ron Sickafoose, and Melissa Placencia, our outreach worker from City Net.

We parked at the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge and made our way up a trail at the Los Patos Way exit up onto the railroad tracks. We had to use flashlights, and Ron had a great headlamp. We found several camps between the railroad tracks and the freeway. This area is in the City of Santa Barbara.

When we encounter a camp, we hope to interview the individual using a phone-based tool that asks basic questions. Sometimes people refused, and we logged that information as well. The goal is to gain a snapshot in time of how many people are experiencing homelessness in a jurisdiction. This count was conducted by volunteers across the county and across the country. 

In the 2022 Point-in-Time count, one surprise was the dramatic increase in homelessness, particularly in people living in their vehicles. We have seen that too, in Montecito, in the Vons parking lot overnight, and along Butterfly Beach. 

The team moved past the cemetery, the Sanitary District, and the Butterfly Lane Tunnel, all the way down past Olive Mill Road. We were dismayed to see camps with items in them, but which weren’t occupied, strange for 5 am. Some individuals have been keeping a couple of camps, as there is a bit of friction between a group near the bird refuge and those just on the other side of the bridge over Cabrillo Boulevard. They’re moving back and forth between these camps. 

We’re finding the folks we’re encountering are more difficult to assist than previously. Substances are involved and for the willing, treatment queues are long. We got some great news this week: One senior gentleman we’ve worked with through 2022 finally has a housing voucher and might be moving indoors soon!

As the sun came up, we ended on Coast Village Road, where we interviewed a man at the Chevron. Many neighbors are concerned about a woman who has lived at the bus stop there. We’ve consistently engaged with her, and deployed every resource there is, from Behavioral Wellness to Adult Protection Services to offering a hotel room and reunification with her sister, and more. We’d very much love to see her happily living indoors, but that is not what she wants for herself. The Governor’s Care Court may help us but will not be rolling out in our county until 2024. 

Some Good News

All-Saints-by-the-Sea, a Montecito landmark since the early 1890s, donated $65,000 to Transition House, a nonprofit that assists women, children, and families with leaving poverty and homelessness. The donation was to support Transition House’s Three Stage Housing Program for 2023. Seventy-six percent of families that enter the program succeed in transitioning to stable housing. Director Kathleen Bauschke said the funds will be used to “bolster our children’s programs, weekly sack lunch program, and revitalize our kitchens. Together, we are positively impacting lives by addressing the trauma of homelessness.” The check was presented on Feb. 13 at Transition House.  

Sharon Byrne is executive director of the Montecito Association


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