SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The rise in homelessness and aggressive panhandling are two topics that are widely discussed in Santa Barbara.
However, a headcount done by Santa Barbara County's Behavioral Wellness department shows there are 790 homeless people living in Santa Barbara City which is 12% less than two years ago.
Local organizations and volunteer groups have stepped up for decades in the city to provide support, resources and hope for the homeless population. Ocean Hills Covenant Church has gathered volunteers for the last five years to feed about homeless people at Alameda Park.
"It's just always been on my heart that there was people were hungry in our own town, not a third world country," said Erin Beck, a volunteer.
Beck and other volunteers have gotten to know the people who have waited in line for warm meals.
"I think it's a small population of the homeless that are actually panhandling on State Street and gives those called the 'righteously homeless' a bad name," said Beck.
One of the people in line was Richard Diaz-Corral who says he was born and raised in Santa Barbara. He's been homeless for years and says a different wave of homeless people are flocking to Santa Barbara.
"You have your homeless and I put them in categories, I call them street walkers," said Diaz-Corral.
He explains street walkers are people who lived on the streets and caused trouble in other states who received "one way tickets" from authorities to Santa Barbara.
"They run and hide under the encampment of homeless as a protection umbrella from whatever the case may be and the homeless suffer the rep," said Diaz-Corral.
He says he understands homelessness isn't easy to solve, but he hopes people will be inspired by volunteers who see homeless people as people.
For more information on Ocean Hills Covenant Church's meal share program, click here.
Santa Barbara County is holding a drive for new/gently used sleeping bags, warm clothes, backpacks and new hygiene products. Anyone who wants to help is encouraged to call (805) 568-3470.