The global pandemic brought new and unexpected challenges to the work that AmeriCorps members do on a daily basis. COVID-19 has affected our communities and those experiencing homelessness more harshly than most. In addition to many basic support services shutting their doors, shelter was even harder to come by. This post is part of our NSBC United Way series highlighting the work of AmeriCorps, as told by Clarissa Ornelas, AmeriCorps Member, Case and Housing Coordinator in the Santa Barbara County Public Defenders Office.


September 2020

Many clients were lined up to enter the Depot Residences in April, but the pandemic pushed back the opening date for the new housing complex. Individuals on the waiting list were then left trying to find shelter with virtually no options available because of the pandemic. With the shelters being closed to new intakes, many of those experiencing homelessness were left with no shelter and forced to sleep on the streets or in their cars.

Between September 11 and September 18, six clients were informed that their number on the Depot Residences had been pulled.

A Single Mom

In this case, a single mother just wanting a home for herself and her child was next for our work. For the past three years she has experienced housing instability due to separating from her child’s father. With only having one income, she could not afford stable housing and was forced to live in her vehicle and motel rooms when she could afford it. She commuted daily back and forth from Santa Barbara to continue working, but it was not enough to afford the expenses of getting housing. After sending her daughter to stay with a friend she encountered legal troubles that only created more hurdles.

After losing her job she could no longer afford to stay in her car and hopped around from house to house. I began working with her in April 2019 and provided her with a bus pass to get from Lompoc to Santa Maria for her court hearings and meetings. I was able to get her a bed at the shelter, but right before the pandemic hit she was exited.

At that time I was trying to get a hold of her because the shelter had contacted me to tell me that she had received her Depot Residences packet in the mail! By the time she received the packet the deadline for submission had already passed. We were able to call the Housing Authority to explain the situation and get an extended deadline. Months passed with no word on the Depot packet…

Got the Call!

Out of the blue I received a call from the main worker at the Housing Authority informing me that she was getting a place at the Depot Residences. She was in disbelief that it was finally happening! Since moving in I have arranged weekly food pick ups with Coast Valley for her and now she has a place for her daughter to come and stay. I am so grateful to have been able to help her with the transition.

The wait was worth it! It was extremely rewarding getting the call from each client telling me that they have officially received a move in date for the Depot Residences. Witnessing the pure joy, excitement and relief on my clients faces when I saw them during their move in process was so heart warming and reassured me that I am doing the kind of work I am meant to do.

This is a Santa Barbara county-wide AmeriCorps program, administered by California Volunteers and powered by Northern Santa Barbara County United Way and AmeriCorps. Learn more, get involved!