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 first in a 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.

Mother and Child

The first housed was a woman and her one year old baby. Since a young age, she had struggled with housing because of her mother’s addiction issues. She was in and out of group homes and never had a sense of stability. Once she was old enough, she chose to live with her mother and at that point she began to struggle with addiction and mental health issues of her own and losing her children. At the beginning of the pandemic she stayed with her in-laws which did not work out. At that point she wanted to give up, but I was able to get her into a motel after removing her from a less than ideal living situation.

Throughout her struggles she slept in her car, in parks and the shelter with her children until they were taken away. I began working with her in June 2019. It was then that she became serious about her recovery and entered the TC House. I was able get her on the list for the Depot Residences.

She successfully completed the program in 2019 and graduated from the treatment course in January 2020. Due to the pandemic, Behavioral Wellness was unable to see clients and this caused a lot of extra stress for her. Additionally, the idea of getting stable housing seemed unattainable because of the continued delay of construction on the Depot Residences. With my support and encouragement, she continued to wait and hope for the best. After a few weeks in the motel she was provided with a trailer at the Good Samaritan for a few weeks and eventually moved into the family shelter.

Got the Call!

When she finally got the call for the Depot Residences it was nothing short of a miracle. Given the fact that there are only 93 units, but thousands of applicants, receiving an apartment is like winning the lottery. After experiencing homelessness for the past five years, and facing potential prison time, mother and baby finally have a place to call their own!

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!