Homelessness FAQs

What Can I Do to Help?

Homelessness has proven to be a tough problem to solve. It is difficult to see someone trying to survive on the streets, in their car, in a park, or in the river bed.  Our reactions range from fear and anger to compassion and pity. Very often we choose not to see the person and avoid eye contact. As hard as it may be to witness the personal difficulties of others, we encourage all Valley residents to exercise empathy. Imagine for yourself what it’s like to have no home and no support network, to be cold or hungry or sick, to have so many in better situations in life walk by you each day as if you were invisible.

Yes, there are some homeless individuals that choose what might be known as a “vagabond” lifestyle. That said, our 25 years of experience at PHP have proven that it is not always easy to determine how an individual or family became homeless. Making assumptions about the conditions which led to their current status is a result of their own doing often ends up re-victimizing a victim. Many homeless people are veterans suffering from the impact of war, those with mental illness, those laid off from work, a senior who lost a spouse, and victims fleeing domestic violence or child abuse. It is often best to recognize our own good fortune and to remember that each of us is human. Treat each and every person with dignity. Follow your own instincts but exercise caution. See Risk Factors in the next paragraph below. Remember, caring has little or no cost and small acts of kindness can sometimes have a large impact.

Should I Help a Homeless Person I See on the Street or Sleeping Nearby?

If you feel that the situation is safe, ask the person if he or she needs assistance and has visited PHP or any other organization that helps homeless people. You can offer PHP’s address or phone number which is available on our website at www.syvphp.org. There is a printable card available at http://www.syvphp.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Service-Request-Card.pdf that you can hand out. If you are not comfortable addressing the person, then call PHP at 805-686-0295 to let us know that there is a homeless person who appears to need services. We or our partners at C3H (Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness) will send an outreach team as soon as possible. When you call, you should be able to let us know the person’s location, what he or she is wearing, what condition he or she seems to be in, and whether it is an emergency.

We strongly encourage you NOT to transport or invite an unknown person into your home due to potential Risk Factors such as alcohol and drug use, health and mental health diagnoses, and possible criminal background. As one of our experienced associates at C3H said, “I have rarely found that someone taking a person in has worked out well. Yet every year I work with two or so people that have done this and have gotten themselves in hot water (Jeff Schaeffer, Coordinator @ C3H).”

I See a Homeless Person That Is Suffering From Extreme Weather?

Unless you feel unsafe doing so, ask if the person is ok, has someplace to go and needs help. Emergency shelter is available in extreme weather. You can call PHP at 686-0295 to let us know that there is a person in need of such emergency shelter. You can also dial 211, the County’s Social Service Helpline, to locate shelters and other services for the homeless. If the person seems to require medical attention, dial 911.

I Think One of My Child’s Classmates Is Homeless and I Want to Help Without Offending or Embarrassing Them?

It is extremely important to treat such issues with extreme confidentiality. Three is a stigma attached to homelessness and children are not always kind to other children. The best thing to do would be to contact the child’s teacher or administrator at the school to discuss your concerns. If you are not comfortable with talking to someone at the school, you can call PHP at 686-0295. We will investigate the situation and intervene, if appropriate.

Someone on The Street Asks Me for Money or Food?

Each of us must make our own decisions about whom to help and how. Just because someone is asking for food or money doesn’t necessarily mean that they are homeless. If you are inclined to help, in order to ensure that you are not enabling someone who is not homeless or is using illegal drugs or alcohol, a better way to give is to furnish some groceries or a hot meal. Again, if you are comfortable you might ask an individual what easily accessible food or groceries they need. If you re uncomfortable providing food, you can offer PHP’s address or phone number which is available on our website at www.syvphp.org. There is a printable card available at http://www.syvphp.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Service-Request-Card.pdf that you can hand out. If you are not comfortable addressing the person, then call PHP at 686-0295 to let us know that there is a homeless person who appears to need services. We will send an outreach team as soon as possible. When you call, you should be able to let us know the person’s location, what he or she is wearing, what condition he or she seems to be in, and whether it is an emergency. If an individual is overly aggressive, call the Sherriff’s non-emergency dispatch at (805) 683-2774.

I Would Like to Be Able to Give Homeless People Useful Information About Where to Get Help?

You can offer PHP’s address or phone number which is available on our website at www.syvphp.org. There is a printable card available at http://www.syvphp.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Service-Request-Card.pdf that you can hand out.

If you are not comfortable addressing the person, then call PHP at 686-0295 to let us know that there is a homeless person who appears to need services. We will send an outreach team as soon as possible. When you call, you should be able to let us know the person’s location, what he or she is wearing, what condition he or she seems to be in, and whether it is an emergency.

What Should I Do When a Homeless Person Is on Private Property?

If you observe a homeless person sleeping on private property, such as a doorway of an apartment or office building, residents can call PHP at 686-0295. PHP staff will normally respond to requests M-F 8 AM- 5 PM. During other hours a homeless person(s) in need may be referred for assistance to the Sherriff’s substations Solvang or Buellton. Note that due to limited staffing and emergencies, these stations are not manned 24/7.

PHP’s primary emergency assistance program focus is homelessness prevention at its services are directed to prevent eviction. That said, PHP has approaches to help people get off the streets and into shelters, substance abuse programs and emergency care as needed in order to work with the homeless person on shelter and care options. PHP staff members start by engaging a homeless person in conversation to identify their needs with the goal of transferring them to a safe shelter. If they don’t succeed at first, they make an effort to come back to persuade the person.

If PHP is unsuccessful, we advise residents to call Sherriff @ their local non-emergency dispatch number (805) 683-2724 to file a report. Once reported to the Sherriff, it’s likely a homeless person will move. While it’s not an ideal situation, it may be enough to persuade a person to seek out safer alternatives. A Deputy Sherriff, can also threaten to take a homeless person to jail if they’re committing a violation such as trespassing or the Deputy may just ask them to move along as necessary.