SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A small army of volunteers took to the streets across Santa Barbara County Thursday night with the goal of counting the county's entire homeless population for the so-called "Point in Time" count..
"This is something that every two years the federal government requires every county to count all its homeless people", says organizer Chuck Flacks with the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness, "this is the way we do it, they don't give use any funding to count people but they require us to do it so we get volunteers out there and we make it happen."
The data collected will help determine future funding for local homeless programs, including affordable housing projects, under the federal Housing and Urban Development department or HUD.
"We count people in shelters, we count people who have been permanently housed, there's a lot of ways that people are counted across the county", Flacks says, "this is an important count because HUD uses this to look across the country and compare region to region what's going on in different regions, so it does affect our funding on a certain level."
Flacks says he expects the volunteers to count between 100 to 150 homeless people in the Santa Maria area and at least 1,500 across Santa Barbara County.
"In Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County, one of the biggest problems is just a lack of affordable housing and that's for all people, people of all different income levels, housing is one of the most precious and scarce resources we have in the community", Flacks says, "its important that people know that there's a very vulnerable group of people on the streets with no resources, often with certain disabilities, mental, physical, alcohol and substance abuse problems, who need to be supported to be able to be housed and that requires the community to come together to provide those resources."
"Everybody is a paycheck away from being homeless and that's a fact", says Norman Wicks who is homeless with his dog Zoey in Santa Maria, "there's a story for every single person out there that is homeless, every single person has a different story, my story is that the County of Santa Barbara, the Sheriff's Department made me homeless by stealing my motor home away from me illegally."
Wicks says he's counting on the new Trump Administration to acknowledge the homeless crisis in the country and will do something about it.
"I think there's going to be more funding", Wicks says, "I think people are going to realize that the homeless problem has gotten so bad that every major city in this country has thousands, literally thousands of people that are homeless, they just hide from the police."