Santa Barbara County, CA, February 7, 2024 — Chronic homelessness is a health and safety risk for an entire community, including those who are homeless. High concentrations of homeless persons often result in increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations, police intervention, incarceration and drug and sanitation issues. This is just one reason why organizations like DignityMoves are working to reduce homelessness by providing safe, dignified housing for homeless individuals and families. This service improves the lives of both the residents of DignityMoves housing sites as well as those living throughout Santa Barbara County.
“We do have many safety issues associated with where people are camped here in Santa Barbara County,” said Mark Hatwig, Fire Chief of Santa Barbara County. “Most of these homeless encampments are not safe living spaces. They’re very riparian, typically overgrown, often next to the highway and train tracks and are built into the brush specifically to be concealed. They don’t lend themselves very well to fire safety and so we have had to evacuate them, and sometimes surrounding neighborhoods, because of fires.” A majority of those hit and killed by trains in our area are homeless.
Providing safe, secure housing also reduces crime rates, sanitation concerns and substance use issues.
Other common health issues impacting the homeless include HIV, lung diseases including bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia, malnutrition and weather exposure. Life expectancy is 20-30 years lower for the chronic homeless population.
Homeless women are particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of victimization including forced, coerced, or manipulated sexual activity. Levels of victimization that women endure before, during, and after episodes of homelessness remain enormously high, often occurring in multiple settings at the hands of multiple perpetrators.
If someone becomes homeless they may also find it difficult to care for and protect themselves and cope with existing life challenges. Lacking safety, security, privacy and the support networks of friends and family, they may become particularly vulnerable to various forms of physical violence and harassment, crime and exploitation. (Source: NIH)
“Our primary focus is on the health and safety of those who are homeless,” said Jack Lorenz, Regional Advancement Director for DignityMoves, Santa Barbara County. “Once they are housed and cared for there is a positive domino effect that leads to the improvement of the overall health of a community,” said Lorenz.
“The idea of bringing a number of the homeless together to live in a supervised community actually makes the local community, including the homeless, much safer than if we continue to have encampments that are completely unsupervised and are completely unsanitary and problematic,” said Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County.
DignityMoves provides 24/7 supervised facilities with rules restricting the use of drugs and alcohol, as well as on-site services helping individuals overcome substance use disorders and become document-ready to qualify for permanent housing.
“From what I’ve seen in the existing DignityMoves projects, it’s been very successful,” Brown said. “You’ve had people who get there and wake up to the fact that they can turn their life around, including improving their health. There are organizations that are going to help them do it and that believe in them and care about them. And when they take advantage of this opportunity they can then matriculate out of the DignityMoves location into more permanent housing leaving space for others to enter the program.”
Since August of 2022, the group’s tiny cabins community has provided housing for 90 homeless individuals, 70 of whom have moved on to stable housing. Residents have found jobs, enrolled in college and been connected with mental health and substance treatment. In those 15 months, Santa Barbara’s homeless population has gone down, as have emergency calls to first responders and homeless hospital emergency room visits. In addition to the downtown DignityMoves location, four more sites are slated to open within the next year including three more in the greater Santa Barbara area and one in Santa Maria.
The reason for the overall success of DignityMoves in Santa Barbara is clear to Joyce Dudley, former District Attorney of Santa Barbara.
“Once I walked through the wooden gate of DignityMoves on Santa Barbara Street and looked around, I had this sense of dignity,” Dudley said. “And I was surprised that that was the first word that popped into my mind because that’s what it offers. The people there are holding their heads up high. They were having eye contact with me. They appreciated the privacy they had and the ability to be there. And there was a warmth and a sense of community that really doesn’t exist in a place that I’ve ever seen in Santa Barbara. Certainly, there are terrific places for overnight care, but not for building that sense of community and privacy.”
With help from DignityMoves and their local partners, many more people living on the street will have the opportunity to improve their lives including their health and safety, raising the entire County of Santa Barbara with them.
DignityMoves works to end unsheltered street homelessness in communities through the construction of Interim Supportive Housing as a rapid, cost-effective, scalable solution. Using innovative approaches such as prefabricated materials and modular housing, DignityMoves takes advantage of vacant parking lots or other underutilized sites to build temporary “pop-up” communities which can be relocated, as necessary. DignityMoves also develops permanent sites such as those funded by California’s Project Homekey program. For information on bringing a DignityMoves community to your city, or to donate to this work, please visit