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Warming centers opening in Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County’s large homeless population will have a few more places to come in from the cold at night.

Between November and March, whenever temperatures fall to 35 degrees and below or its raining, homeless warming centers will be activated in Santa Barbara County starting this Sunday night at 6pm in an effort to accommodate a large need.

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Ben Rousch is finishing up work for the day at a recycling center in Lompoc.

After years of battling drug and alcohol addition that sent him to prison several times, Rousch now collects bottles that he used to rely on to get through the day.

“It just came to me that I was almost 50 years old and I needed to be done with it”, Rousch says, “I quit drinking, I quit doing drugs, I got off parole with a successful termination.”

Even though he has a steady job, Rousch is homeless.

With local homeless shelters full, Rousch says he copes as best he can on the street with the cold and wet overnight weather.

“I have scads of blankets, I put on an extra layer of clothes”, Rousch says, “I’m good, the cold doesn’t really bother me, and you can always put on more clothes.”

Jeffrey Nelson is pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Lompoc, one of four warming centers that will open to the homeless on Sunday night.

Tthe warming centers are a partnership between Good Samaritan Shelters, Santa Barbara County and local churches like Peace Lutheran.

“We feel very strongly that we’re called not just to be taking care of ourselves but to be reaching out to and caring for the community around us”, Pastor Nelson says, “that includes people that are marginalized for whatever reasons, in this case, the homeless.”

Ben Rousch is also undergoing treatment for cancer and blames no one else but himself for where he is at this point in life. But he holds on to hope for a better life as long as he remains clean and sober.

“I put myself in this position, I’m the one who went to prison, I’m the one who has two strikes”, Rousch says, “I don’t mind sleeping outside. I have a job where I can break stuff and smash glass and nobody calls the police, it could be a lot worse.”

With a cold snap and rain expected this weekend, Santa Barbara County is opening warming centers on Sunday, Nov. 20 from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Warming centers will be located at the following locations:

Lompoc: Peace Lutheran Church – 1000 W. Ocean Blvd. Santa Barbara: 1st United Methodist Church – 305 E. Anapamu St. Isla Vista: University Methodist Church – 892 Camino del Sur Carpinteria: Veteran Memorial Building – 941 Walnut Avenue

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