BY SAM WATERSTONE | May 26, 2020
The Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation (SB ACT) is at the center of several important collaborations providing services for Santa Barbara’s most vulnerable residents during the COVID-19 crisis. Their role in maintaining services for homeless individuals affected by COVID-19 is an excellent example of why collaboration is so important, especially during a disaster.
As soon as nonprofit service providers began feeling the impact of the crisis, SB ACT implemented twice-weekly conference calls with local homeless care and shelter providers. These calls were an extension of the ACT on Homelessness, a community collaboration organized by SB ACT and funded by the Santa Barbara Foundation and the City of Santa Barbara. This coalition, which first came together in 2019, is addressing homelessness in the city by creating a Common Agenda focused on issues of homelessness prevention, family homelessness, and more.
“We wanted to put [our COVID-19 response] into the structure we already created, and we started immediately, knowing that just creating a mechanism for people to come together would be helpful,” explained Barbara Andersen, who serves as the Collaborative Facilitator for ACT on Homelessness. “As programs and services look to get back up and operational, or as needs are identified among the [homeless] population, we’re able to work together much more quickly to address these issues.”
One organization aided by SB ACT’s coordinated communication was a homeless care provider called Showers of Blessing. Showers of Blessing offers free, mobile showers to homeless residents in southern Santa Barbara County to promote health and wellness while restoring dignity to these community members in need.
“Prior to COVID-19, Showers of Blessing was operational and on-site at meal sharing programs that were facilitated by faith-based organizations,” said Andersen. “Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was on Wednesdays, Alameda Park was on Thursdays, and other communities did meal sharing as well, in Goleta, Isla Vista, and elsewhere.”
The COVID-19 crisis led to the mandated closing of four of Showers of Blessing’s service sites. The organization needed to quickly find new locations to host their mobile shower services, so they turned to SB ACT to help facilitate this search.
SB ACT reached out to Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara (GIGSB), knowing that their downtown facility would be closed and that perhaps their lot would be available as a site for Showers of Blessing’s portable shower unit. Despite being in the middle of activating their Business Continuity Plan and assessing essential services and personnel, GIGSB immediately answered the request by offering their space.
“We were desperate,” said Ken Ralph, Executive Director at Showers of Blessing. “All four of our normal downtown weekly shower sites had been closed to us. [Director of Initiatives] Jeff Shaffer and SB ACT found us a perfect site to serve the folks that would normally have showered at Our Lady of Guadalupe. The folks at SB ACT really know how to network and bring resources together to help us all.”
Last month, the Santa Barbara Foundation awarded Showers of Blessing with a COVID-19 Response Grant to support their emergency operations. Funds have been utilized by the organization to identify new potential site hosts, locate personal protective equipment for staff, network with other nonprofit agencies to connect services, and utilize media and social media to announce new locations and old site closures.
Due to the power of collaboration, Showers of Blessing is once again able to provide hot showers, five days a week, at various sites in southern Santa Barbara County (view schedule below). These sites act as outreach centers for other homeless service providers who have had their operations dramatically affected by COVID-19, offering some much-needed structure and support for homeless individuals struggling to access services during this tumultuous time.
Showers of Blessing Shower Sites During COVID-19 Response
Monday, 2pm to 5pm: St. Michael’s University Church (6586 Picasso Road, Isla Vista)
Tuesday, 11am to 2pm: Pershing Park, Santa Barbara (Parking Lot)
Wednesday, 11am to 2pm: Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara (531 Ortega Street, Santa Barbara)
Thursday, 10am to 1pm: St. Athanasius Orthodox Church (Sumida Garden Lane & Hollister, Goleta)
Friday, 11am to 2pm: Pershing Park, Santa Barbara (Parking Lot)
Showers of Blessing is a small but mighty group that serves homeless individuals throughout much of southern Santa Barbara County. In addition to offering free, hot private showers, they also provide toiletries, new underwear and socks, emergency used clothing, and emergency sleeping bags to those experiencing homelessness. Furthermore, their shower sites act as a central hub or gathering place for other advocacy groups and agencies who provide essential services such as health care, food distribution, housing services, and more. Learn more about Showers of Blessing at: https://showersofblessingiv.org/
Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara provides youth development programs and mentorship to girls in the Santa Barbara area. In the time of COVID-19, they are continuing to engage girls by offering free virtual programming and remaining in frequent communication with member families to make sure they have access to essential resources. For more information about GIGSB, visit: https://girlsincsb.org/
To learn more about SB ACT’s COVID-19 response efforts in support of homeless residents, visit: https://sbact.org/covid19-homelessness