Op-ED: Providing Housing for the Homeless Leads to More Safety and Better Health for all, Particularly Those who Live on the Streets

By Dignity Moves

Chronic homelessness is a health and safety risk for an entire community, including those who are homeless. High concentrations of homeless persons often result in increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations, police intervention, incarceration and drug and sanitation issues. This is just one reason why organizations like DignityMoves are working to reduce homelessness by providing safe, dignified housing for homeless individuals and families. This service improves the lives of both the residents of  DignityMoves housing sites as well as those living throughout Santa Barbara County.

“We do have many safety issues associated with where people are camped here in Santa Barbara County,” said Mark Hartwig, Fire Chief of Santa Barbara County. “Most of these homeless encampments are not safe living spaces. They’re very riparian, typically overgrown, often next to the highway and train tracks and are built into the brush specifically to be concealed. They don’t lend themselves very well to fire safety and so we have had to evacuate them, and sometimes surrounding neighborhoods, because of fires.”

A majority of those hit and killed by trains in our area are homeless. Providing safe, secure housing also reduces crime rates, sanitation concerns and substance use issues.

Other common health issues impacting the homeless include HIV, lung diseases including bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia, malnutrition and weather exposure.  Life expectancy is 20-30 years lower for the chronic homeless population.

Homeless women are particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of victimization including forced, coerced, or manipulated sexual activity. Levels of victimization that women endure before, during, and after episodes of homelessness remain enormously high, often occurring in multiple settings at the hands of multiple perpetrators. 

If someone becomes homeless they may also find it difficult to care for and protect themselves and cope with existing life challenges. Lacking safety, security, privacy and the support networks of friends and family, they may become particularly vulnerable to various forms of physical violence and harassment, crime and exploitation. (Source: NIH)

“Our primary focus is on the health and safety of those who are homeless,” said Jack Lorenz, Regional Advancement Director for DignityMoves, Santa Barbara County. “Once they are housed and cared for there is a positive domino effect that leads to the improvement of the overall health of a community,” said Lorenz.

“The idea of bringing a number of the homeless together to live in a supervised community actually makes the local community, including the homeless, much safer than if we continue to have encampments that are completely unsupervised and are completely unsanitary and problematic,” said Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County.

DignityMoves provides 24/7 supervised facilities with rules restricting the use of drugs and alcohol, as well as on-site services helping individuals overcome substance use disorders and become document-ready to qualify for permanent housing.

“From what I’ve seen in the existing DignityMoves projects, it’s been very successful,” Brown said. “You’ve had people who get there and wake up to the fact that they can turn their life around, including improving their health. There are organizations that are going to help them do it and that believe in them and care about them. And when they take advantage of this opportunity they can then matriculate out of the DignityMoves location into more permanent housing leaving space for others to enter the program.”

Since August of 2022, the group’s tiny cabins community has provided housing for 90 homeless individuals, 70 of whom have moved on to stable housing. Residents have found jobs, enrolled in college and been connected with mental health and substance treatment. In those 15 months, Santa Barbara’s homeless population has gone down, as have emergency calls to first responders and homeless hospital emergency room visits.  In addition to the downtown DignityMoves location, four more sites are slated to open within the next year including three more in the greater Santa Barbara area and one in Santa Maria.

The reason for the overall success of DignityMoves in Santa Barbara is clear to Joyce Dudley, former District Attorney of Santa Barbara.

“Once I walked through the wooden gate of DignityMoves on Santa Barbara Street and looked around, I had this sense of dignity,” Dudley said. “And I was surprised that that was the first word that popped into my mind because that’s what it offers. The people there are holding their heads up high. They were having eye contact with me. They appreciated the privacy they had and the ability to be there. And there was a warmth and a sense of community that really doesn’t exist in a place that I’ve ever seen in Santa Barbara. Certainly, there are terrific places for overnight care, but not for building that sense of community and privacy.”

With help from DignityMoves and their local partners, many more people living on the street will have the opportunity to improve their lives including their health and safety, raising the entire County of Santa Barbara with them.

About DignityMoves 

DignityMoves works to end unsheltered street homelessness in communities through the construction of Interim Supportive Housing as a rapid, cost-effective, scalable solution. Using innovative approaches such as prefabricated materials and modular housing, DignityMoves takes advantage of vacant parking lots or other underutilized sites to build temporary “pop-up” communities which can be relocated, as necessary. DignityMoves also develops permanent sites such as those funded by California’s Project Homekey program. For information on bringing a DignityMoves community to your city, or to donate to this work, please visit www.dignitymoves.org

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.

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  1. I was outside of Ralph’s downtown yesterday, and I saw a homeless woman. I talked to her quite a while before I went into the store, and when I came out, I brought her sandwich and some other little lunch items. She was a very nice woman. She had told me she googled best place in the United States to live With the best weather, and Santa Barbara came up number one in all the articles she read. So she decided to hitchhike here I don’t know her issues on why she was homeless it was none of my business but she was pretty able-bodied young I would say maybe late 20s. She said she’s been having so much fun since she came here and that a lot of people come here because of the weather, I get that it’s not fun to sleep out in the snow and rain. I guess my point is we should be housing our local homeless not people that are coming in from all over who knows where because we have good weather. People that can’t afford to live here , don’t come here because they can’t afford houses so I’m having a hard time wrapping myself around people coming from New Jersey that’s where she was from so that we can house them and take care of them here in Santa Barbara. We’re not a community where we just want to become like the homeless capital of the world because we’re the best place for them giving them housing in an area where people are spending over millions for their homes and then our homeless that have been here for a while are losing out. I don’t know what the answer is but now that we have thousands and thousands a day pouring over our borders from all over the world are they all going to say oh Santa Barbara is a great place let’s go there , and then we’re just gonna accommodate everybody who comes in.

    • MBK is on the money! Santa Barbara, like other Southern California cities is a magnet for homeless people. Our open borders are adding to the homeless population in cities all over the country. Take a look at NYC or LA and they will show what the over population of thew homeless can do to a city’s quality of life and financial stability. NYC has a dangerous and growing public safety problem from illegally imported criminals! No city in the entire USA has the heavy lift capacity to handle their growing homeless population. Doctor’s wishing to re-locate to Santa Barbara and work for Coittage or Sansum, cannot sfford to move here. There should be strict laws governing who of the homeless receive help here. If they have not lived here for a given time, they should receive a bus ticket to where they are from.

        • SBSURFERLIFE – No, most of a certain group don’t bother to even try to educate themselves with facts anymore and just spew whatever nonsense they heard on YouTube or read on Parler as gospel. This is all thanks to a particular former president who make this type of “argument” not only popular, but accepted, among those unfortunates who fell for it.

          Sadly, we’re in an age of “whatever I say is a fact and if you ask for evidence, I’ll just spew some insults and run away.” It’s like a cuttlefish or a stinkbug. If you confront one with logic/reasoning/easily verifiable facts, they squirt out more ink/stink and scurry off. Silly folk, really.

      • ANON – “Doctor’s wishing to re-locate to Santa Barbara and work for Coittage or Sansum, cannot sfford to move here.” – Sure they can. I make less than a doctor and am living here. Maybe they can’t afford to live in palaces in Hope Ranch that they expected, but they can easily afford a decent home here. Their staff though….. that’s a bigger problem but you don’t seem like one concerned about that.

        Also, the homeless “illegally imported criminals” you’re panicking about have absolutely NOTHING to do with some docs not being able to afford Montecito estates.

        • Uh, when did you last move? The open market is MUCH more expensive than having a mortgage from the ’80s or ’90s – or even a lease that renews at +5-8% every year that you’ve had since before 2020. The cost of housing has increases 20-40% since 2019, and the median income to buy a house is $2M. Doctors make a healthy salary, but many have crippling debt from medical school, especially those most highly in demand (GPs and primary care physicians).

          • TAXI – I admit, I got lucky when we purchased our last home. Thing is, I know people who make less than doctors who are able to purchase in town. It’s possible. Like I said, they might not be able to afford that dream Doctor Mansion in Montecito yet, but a starter home is in the cards, unless they’re fresh out of med school with not much credit.

    • Mebk – so a lady that you just met told you a story that may or may not be true and now you’re going to base your whole understanding of the homeless crisis on this one story? Sounds… unintelligent. You do realize that there are studies done every other year on homeless individuals locally and time and time again they’ve found that most people on our streets are from here. It’s fine to have your opinion, but shouldn’t you also be just slightly educated on the topic before taking a radical stance?
      “More than 77% of persons surveyed during the count reported losing housing while living in Santa Barbara County.”

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