Fr. Virgil Cordano Center is a collaborative ministry of the Franciscan Friars at the Old Mission of Santa Barbara and the Daughters of Charity at St. Vincent's that is rooted in the Gospel and the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church. Faithful to the traditions of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul, we provide a place of welcome and support for human and spiritual well-being for our sisters and brothers in need.

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On Thursday, January 25th, 2024, St. Vincent’s Associates joined over 450 volunteers to canvass Santa Barbara County. The group was looking to connect with their neighbors experiencing homelessness and talk to them about their struggles.  This annual event is known as the Point-in-Time (PIT) count. As a community, we use the data gleaned from the PIT count to assess our success in the fight to end homelessness and the ongoing needs of the county’s most vulnerable residents. Leaders of local non-profits and our elected officials use this data to advocate for resources from private foundations as well as state and federal funders.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines the Point-in-Time as a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness (including vehicular homelessness) on a single night in January. Every community across the country that receives federal funding to address the issue of homelessness is required to conduct the count. This is a particularly important yearly event for Santa Barbara, which aims to provide a reliable, albeit imperfect, estimate of the people experiencing homelessness in our community on a single day during the given year.

This year’s PIT event launched county-wide at 5:30 AM. Christ Presbyterian Church on 36 East Victoria Street served as a coordination center for the count in the City of Santa Barbara. At the check-in volunteers distributed ID badges to canvassers, gave brief introduction,  assigned individuals to groups to begin the count in designated locations of the city. The St. Vincent’s volunteer group surveyed the area known as census tract 1.02, which encompasses approximately one square mile of residential, commercial, and public properties. The survey area followed the winding bends of Foothill Road to the north, San Marcos Pass Road to the west, and upper State Street to Arroyo Burro Creek in the south, including an unincorporated  pocket of land in the south. The St. Vincent’s team traveled and surveyed close to 17 miles of roads, alleyways, creeks, and footpaths in the area.

Map of the designated area where St. Vincent’s team conducted Point-in-Time count in January 2024.

Our team encountered people experiencing homelessness soon after arriving at the designated area. Respecting the right to privacy of these individuals, we tried to distribute questionnaires and small sanitation kits when it was safe and welcomed. The purpose of the questionnaire is to discern the personal circumstances and understand the needs of every person who lacks permanent housing. This information was collected and later submitted to county officials through the specially designed Point-in-Time (PIT) count application, which St. Vincent’s team downloaded on their smartphones prior to the start of the count. It is hard to underestimate the benefits of collecting individual responses for drafting truly effective policies to address the problem of homelessness. However, the reality of the count underscored the difficulty of establishing trust and rapport with the people experiencing homelessness; most individuals approached by St. Vincent’s team were reluctant to answer any questions and preferred to avoid contact.

The quality of the PIT data has important policy implications on the national and local level. The information diligently gathered by PIT volunteers during the count is routinely used to draft legislation, inform housing policies, plan social services, design outreach programs, and allocate sufficient resources to address the issue of homelessness. On the most basic level, the PIT data tells us whether the ongoing efforts of local and state governments, as well as non-profit organizations like the Fr. Virgil Cordano Center, have made a measurable impact on the number of people without safe permanent housing.

St. Vincent’s team gathered at the Fr. Virgil Cordano Center and concluded the Point-in-Time (PIT) count of our designated area at 9:00 AM. The data we collected during the three hours of the count has been submitted to Santa Barbara County officials. St. Vincent’s and the Fr. Virgil Cordano Center are proud to join the collaborative efforts of hundreds of volunteers and government officials in our beloved community to work toward understanding the root causes of homelessness in Santa Barbara County and finding viable and sustainable paths for alleviating this complex challenge.

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