Collaboration leads to client success in Santa Barbara

You are here

Release Date: 
Tuesday, May 12, 2020

By: Amanda Paison, AmeriCorps VISTA

The worldwide pandemic COVID-19 has created a time of uncertainty in many individuals' lives. Within the Santa Barbara County Public Defender's Office, we provide essential services to many individuals, some of which are the most vulnerable in our community. Whether it be from substance use issues, homelessness, or mental health issues, our clients have come to depend on the consistency of assistance from advocates within the Community Defender Division (CDD) of the Public Defender's Office. In aiding clients through this tough time, the CDD Team has collaborated with many of our justice partners and community organizations to provide clients with essential services and basic needs.

Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became apparent that in order to stop the spread of the disease in the jail people needed to be released from custody to a location where they could abide by CDC recommendations of maintaining proper hygiene and social distancing. With the traditional avenue of petitioning the court for release being shut down a new plan needed to be put in place. Before the pandemic, the Santa Barbara County Public Defender's Office would work with clients, Probation and the Sheriff to create discharge plans for our clients. Since the pandemic, we have been collaborating with these agencies in creating emergency discharge plans for those in custody who are most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. To assist in this effort, our Rehabilitation Services Coordinators worked closely with staff at Probation and the Sheriff to identify individuals that are "chronic high health risk," and find places for these individuals to go upon release.

As part of the release process, the Public Defender's Office reached out to a local sober living facility to re-purpose its space to assist those coming out of custody. With the pandemic taking over, many places were hesitant to accept new clients without screening for the virus. With this information in mind, the Sobering Center transformed into a makeshift triage site to get clients out of custody and into treatment, housing and shelters. In order to transition clients from custody to programs or shelters, the Sobering Center and its collaborative partners established procedures where those being released would be screened for COVID-19 or provided with testing access if necessary. In addition, the Sobering Center has provided services that are typically handled in-house at the Public Defender's Office or other agencies. Because of the quick change in the Sobering Center's services, many individuals have been released from custody safely with a plan in place.

While for many the stay at home orders are manageable, for some the task is literally impossible. While everyone's lives have been disrupted by COVID-19, the homeless in our communities have been hit especially hard. Because of the pandemic, many important community providers and services closed their doors to public access. On March 22, 2020, an Emergency Shelter opened at the Santa Maria High School's gymnasium to accommodate those without homes that are not high risk for COVID-19. For those that are without homes and at high-risk for COVID-19, a specialized non-congregate Shelter opened in Santa Barbara. Since the inception of these temporary housing options, the AmeriCorps Housing and Case Coordinators have been working to identify and place individuals that meet the criteria for different temporary housing options and partnering with Probation to ensure that everyone released has a place to go. Probation has recently offered the option to clients to stay in a motel in the city for up to four weeks and take advantage of the services our CDD advocates in the Public Defender's Office provide.

In Santa Maria, our office has seen success for the clients staying in the motel. Two of our clients have found employment since being released and all of the clients have been able to apply for SNAP and GR benefits, as well as submit applications for Section 8 and low-income housing. Advocates in our office are working tirelessly to make the lives of our clients a little bit easier during this shaky time. Addressing the intersecting needs of our justice involved clients is a priority during this time, and being able to offer the support that we have and seeing our clients still succeeding through this tough time makes all of the hard work worth it.