Westmont students volunteer for local homeless census

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Every two years, nonprofits across the nation organize volunteers to take part in the Point in Time Count, which is a census of the national homeless population. Keith Carls, a reporter for KEYT News said there were “nearly 500 volunteers” that aided in the count in Santa Barbara County on January 24th. Students from Westmont’s Downtown program and a few leaders from Urban Initiative assisted in the process in the city of Santa Barbara.

Before the morning of the event, volunteers were trained in what their jobs were, the purpose of the census, and how to accurately accomplish the task while being sensitive to the people of the homeless community.

According to Westmont student Hannah Webster, volunteers “met up at the Louise Lowry Community Center at 5:00 pm, broke into groups, and proceeded to walk and drive [through their] particular area street by street to get an accurate idea of the population of Santa Barbara streets and parks during the night.” Each group included two leaders, one trained in the field and another who had been homeless before.

Rebekah Beeghly explained that through apps on their phones, volunteers were instructed to “enter in observational information for each person [they] saw sleeping or, as it got later in the morning, experiencing homelessness.” The “observational information” consisted of perceived demographic data and location. Beeghly also noted that volunteers were “encouraged to go and talk to them.” From there, they could ask personal questions and give people things they may be in need of, from hygiene kits to gift cards.

The reporter Carls wrote, “the data collected by the census volunteers will be used by federal, state and local government to determine future funding for homeless programs, assistance and support services in the county and in local communities.” The nonprofits organize the count so that they can receive adequate endowments to support members of the local homeless community. In this regard, Carls noted that some volunteers had once been in the same position, and many volunteers felt called to help as they were able. Beeghly was swift to declare that the count was only providing access to a fundamental right, “they are people and a part of the community and they should be ‘counted’ as a member of our community just like all the rest of us who have permanent residences.”

The last census occured in 2017, when Santa Barbara county recorded nearly 1,500 homeless people. The official report noted that “the homeless population counted in the County overall has been remarkably stable over the past 8 years,” but according to Carls, the organizations in charge of the 2019 count expect the number to increase this year.


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