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Challenge to reduce homelessness in Santa Barbara County now underway

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Posted at 11:49 PM, Aug 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-23 03:01:42-04

Just off Highway 101, nestled in the Santa Maria Riverbed and dotted with brightly colored tents, is a community of over 100 people experiencing homelessness.

The conditions are harsh. The area lacks shade, water, plumbing, transportation services, and medical resources.

Many people residing in the riverbed are degree holders. Some were firefighters, doctors, and tour guides, formerly serving a community that is now failing them.

"I went to college. I went to Cal Poly. I got a job. I worked at Hearst Castle as a tour guide for many years and then I got a DUI," said Elizabeth Perry, a person transitioning out of The Santa Maria Riverbed.

Perry explained how she ended up in the riverbed.

"The DUI took my daughter away from me and it just... it did something to my life that made it very difficult for me to put back together," said Perry.

Feeling hopeless, Perry turned to substances.

"...and without my daughter who is my life, things just went down, and once I found myself homeless, addiction set in," said Transitioning out of The Santa Maria Riverbed.

She said there are very few resources available to people like her in the riverbed suffering from addiction.

"Now I feel like I've set behaviors that have now become patterns and a way of life and it's hard to just break those and get back, and I think that's true for a lot of people," Perry added.

However, the county is trying to change that by participating in a 100-day challenge to reduce homelessness throughout the state by resolving encampments along county freeways and railroad corridors.

The funding behind this effort comes from the state of California encampment resolution funding grant awarded to Santa Barbara County to move people experiencing homelessness indoors and away from freeways and railroad tracks. This is because these locations have higher safety risks because of fires and collisions.

"A lot of this initial push is trying to make sure that we have accurately mapped all the sites so that we can make sure we're getting the right services to the right people," said the County of Santa Barbara Homelessness Assistance Program Manager Kimberlee Albers.

The county has been successful in other initiatives by obtaining a list of people experiencing homelessness, understanding what each one needs in order to be successful and connecting them with an outreach worker.

"We're also hoping to move at least 20 who are living in encampments into shelter and another 20 into permanent housing," said Albers.

People experiencing homelessness said they feel optimistic about the initiative. 

"At first I felt a little apprehensive about it because sometimes people say they want to help, but the help isn't there," said Perry.

"Not all of us are bad in the Riverbed. You know, not all of us use drugs, we're not all bad. We're just trying to live day to day. So hopefully this county gets us in houses," said Shane Barker, a Santa Maria Riverbed encampment resident.

Involvement from the community is an integral part of this effort. If you'd like to help, you can donate gently used furniture or household items such as bedding and clothing. To coordinate a drop off contact Alice Villarreal Redit at

Housing rental units are also in demand as part of this effort. Rental subsidies and landlord incentives are available.