Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless title=
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless
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Safe Parking participants Frances, Debra and Brit receive Solar Chargers from program sponsor Mike Tognotti, Unite to Light president Megan Birney and Sofia Tognotti, (center)

Source: Unite to Light

Judy is retired, has a Section 8 voucher and gets social security, but because she also has a 60 pound dog, she is having a difficult time finding an apartment in Santa Barbara. So Judy and her dog live out of her car. She is one of the lucky 150 people enrolled in the Safe Parking Program in Santa Barbara. Safe Parking provides safe overnight, monitored parking spaces, case management and rapid rehousing services for individuals and families living in their vehicles in Santa Barbara, Goleta and the unincorporated region in between. The goal of the program is to ensure safety while program staff help participants transition to permanent housing.

Santa Barbara County has 1,800 people who are experiencing homelessness. This number has been fairly consistent since 2013 according to the Point in Time (PIT) Count that happens in January every other year. In the 2019 PIT Count, approximately 42% of the unsheltered homeless population were living in their vehicles. They have jobs and families, pets, and medical needs, as well as a strong, supportive community that looks out for each other.

Unite to Light president Megan Birney and program sponsor Mike Tognotti (far left and right) deliver solar chargers to Safe Parking participants Sunny, Lise and Cynthia.

What they don’t have is housing and the basic resources many of us take for granted, like running water and electricity. There are groups stepping up to help with these every- day necessities: Showers of Blessing provides showers seven days a week across southern Santa Barbara County to people experiencing homelessness. Unite to Light has been working with Safe Parking since 2017 to provide solar power for small electronics like cell phones, fans and lights.

The partnership between Safe Parking and Unite to Light started in 2017 with a donor: Mike Tognotti. Mike and his daughter Sofia had been serving food to people experiencing homelessness when he overheard several women discussing how difficult it was to keep their phones charged and how they felt very unsafe at night without light or a working cell phone. Mike learned about the Unite to Light portable, solar products and thought it would be a good match for the needs he had learned. Over two years, Mike and his family sponsored 50 Solar Chargers & Battery Banks that were distributed through Safe Parking.

Then in 2019 the program made a big leap: funded through SB Gives, a community-driven fundraising effort hosted by The Santa Barbara Independent and The Fund for Santa Barbara, Unite to Light was able to distribute an additional 72 Solar Chargers & Battery Banks; giving light and power to nearly every participant in the Safe Parking Program.

“We were honored to be selected by Unite to Light to help distribute additional Solar Chargers to our constituents. Based on the feedback over the past two years, we know that solar power enables people to connect to services like housing and jobs. Our clients also save time and money, no longer needing to drive around to find a place to charge their phones,” said Cassie Roach, Program Coordinator and Senior Case Manager of the Safe Parking Program, which is one of four programs offered by New Beginnings Counseling Center.

“As a supporter of Unite to Light, I was honored to attend the distribution event. One woman explained to me how she can now get sleep due to the fact that she will not have to stay up late finding a place to charge her phone,” said Sofia Tognotti, project supporter.  

“This project is a great example of how one person or a small group can make a big impact. Mike and Sofia’s passion to help the homeless, combined with the amazing Safe Parking community in Santa Barbara, has driven this program from a small pilot project, to a major campaign. We are hoping to roll out this model in cities across the US in the coming year so that more people have access to light and power,” said Megan Birney, President of Unite to Light.

If you want to start a solar power project in your community, contact Unite to Light at: [email protected]
If you are living in your vehicle or would like to find out more information about New Beginnings’ housing assistance and eviction prevention services, please contact Development Manager, Michael Berton at [email protected]


About Unite to Light
Unite to Light is a 501(c)(3) organization (EIN #27-2942180) with a mission to manufacture and distribute efficient, durable, low cost solar lamps to people without access to electricity.  Our nonprofit organization targets those that the existing solar market does not: children learning to read, midwives and health clinics, and victims of natural disasters. Unite to Light has distributed over 115,000 lamps to 70 countries. For more information visit www.UnitetoLight.org. 

About New Beginnings Center
New Beginnings Counseling Center provides quality, affordable counseling, shelter, case management, and education that strengthens our community and provides our clients with the ability to lead healthy and productive lives. Located at 324 E. Carrillo Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, New Beginnings Counseling Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.sbnbcc.org

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RHS Sep 02, 2019 09:12 AM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

People in latter years find it hard to "move" as they have no context or resources in a new area. Poor and older people have less ease in this sort of thing. The idea that it all they have to do is pick up and drive somewhere to find comfortable living is a fantasy. Just getting a $100 bucks worth of gas to begin this adventure is a major accomplishment. One doesn't just jump into the unknown with out some hope of landing safely. It is not like taking a vacation week or two in Paris then coming home to the safety and security after the holiday is over.

Shasta Guy Sep 01, 2019 06:37 PM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

If you are not spending money on rent, then you may have some disposable income. Homelessness doesn’t necessarily equate with joblessness. If course you might be spending money you need to build up a deposit on a new place. It’s a bad cycle.

RHS Sep 02, 2019 10:01 AM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

2:21 p.m. What a petty way to deny the needs of these folks. Really, they probably have soft drink now and then, maybe a beer. Cell phones are pretty basic in the 21st Century. Your sort of jibes just play to the big rationalization/excuse of many: These are obviously not " the deserving poor" that we would be all so pleased to assist.

a-1593815255 Sep 01, 2019 03:17 PM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

Their money comes from various places. Some have jobs, others get Social Security. And some people have enough for a phone, but not for rent. They could forego the phone and still be woefully short for rent.

a-1593815255 Sep 01, 2019 02:09 PM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

I'm calling baloney on this statement: "Santa Barbara County has 1,800 people who are experiencing homelessness. This number has been fairly consistent since 2013 according to the Point in Time (PIT) Count that happens in January every other year."************* We all know the "homeless" population has just about doubled here in Santa Barbara in the past couple years. As my one-time friend and now homeless person predicted would occur: When L.A. cleaned out transients two years ago, a great many of them caught that $24 train ride to Santa Barbara.

GeneralTree Sep 01, 2019 02:08 PM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

It's a little comical when people from the far-right believe they know everything about another human being's life situation and in this case can just tell them to simply "move". People get stranded, no money to move - it takes money to move. It takes money to maintain a vehicle. Really a low bar for instructing others without knowing their life situations.

Flicka Sep 01, 2019 11:54 AM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

It's sad to think retired people have to move because of the high cost in their home town. Especially folks who grew up here. I lived in Hawaii one year but the rest of my life has been right here. I'd hate to have to leave.

Shasta Guy Sep 01, 2019 10:40 AM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

This is a wonderful, yet expensive place to live. These are great services, but when you get to point where you are living in your car you need to think about moving to a lower cost area where your resources can stretch further. The Grover Beach/Arroyo Grande area has similar weather, and it’s less expensive than here. If these services held get people back into regular housing then great. Otherwise I’d be plotting my move out of town to make a fresh start.

sbmh2015 Sep 01, 2019 10:47 AM
Groups Team Up to Give Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

My exact thought when reading this. Retired folks frequently have to move to lower cost areas. Plenty of those in the country. Very hard to be retired and live in an expensive area. Come on !

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