SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Several agencies are teaming up in a collaborative effort to address and reduce veterans homelessness in Santa Barbara County.
Called the "100-Day Challenge," the initiative is aimed to ensure an exit of homelessness into safe and stable housing.
The goal is to connect 75 veterans to permanent housing within a 100-day period that ends on Feb. 5, 2021. The number represents half of the estimated 150 veterans that experience homelessness in Santa Barbara County on any given night.
"Anyone who is homeless, it's very sad," said Kathy Simas, Santa Barbara Foundation North County Director. "I think when you find veterans who are experiencing homeless, it's especially sad because they've done so much for us and they deserve better than to be homeless, so this is our challenge. We're going try to house 75 of the homeless veterans and try to make a dent."
One of the many stakeholders that is taking part in the effort is Good Samaritan Shelter.
"It's the most important thing in our county," said Kirsten Cahoon, Good Samaritan Director of Shelter Operations. "I think it's our responsibility to house veterans. I firmly believe that no veteran should sleep outside. It's our civic responsibility to make sure that people that were willing to give up their lives for us, that we make sure that they're safe and housed and have a bed to sleep in at night."
The Santa Maria-based non-profit organization has long served veterans through a variety of programs, including its Freedom House.
The six-bedroom Orcutt home provides permanent housing to up to six veterans, as well as offer case management and other supportive services.
"To me, it means home now," said Tony Ruiz, a Vietnam veteran originally from Guadalupe. "I don't know where I'd be if I wasn't here."
Good Samaritan clients like Ruiz directly benefit from the KCOY NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive, our annual community wide fundraiser to collection donations for people in need.
"The Turkey Drive is the way that the community I think gives Thanksgiving to our clients," said Cahoon. "I think that this drive is more important and these dinners are more important. These turkeys are going to go to our shelter programs and to the Freedom House here. They will be making dinner here and enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner around their dining room table thanks to the donations from the Turkey Drive."
Some of the veterans that are assisted in the 100-Day Challenge will receive a holiday meal provided by generous community support.
Ruiz remembered with fond recollection what the experience was like at the Freedom House in 2019.
"I cooked a turkey last year with all the trimmings nad everything for all the guys here," said Ruiz. "It's just like when I was back home in my younger days. It was just great."
For more information about the KCOY NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive, or to make a donation, visit the Turkey Drive webpage.