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Giving Energy and Hope to Local Homeless

August 16, 2019
Judy is retired, has a Section 8 voucher and gets social security, but because she also has a 60 pound dog, she is having a difficult time finding an apartment in Santa Barbara. So Judy and her dog live out of her car. She is one of 150 people enrolled in the Safe Parking Program in Santa Barbara. Safe Parking provides safe overnight, monitored parking spaces, case management and rapid rehousing services for individuals and families living in their vehicles in Santa Barbara, Goleta and the unincorporated region in between. The goal of the program is to ensure safety while program staff help participants transition to permanent housing.
Safe Parking participants Frances, Debra and Brit receive Solar Chargers from Unite to Light president Megan Birney and program sponsor and advocate, Sofia Tognotti. 

Santa Barbara County has 1,800 people who are experiencing homelessness. This number has been fairly consistent since 2013 according to the Point in Time (PIT) Count that happens in January every other year. In the 2019 PIT Count, approximately 42% of the unsheltered homeless population were living in their vehicles. They have jobs and families, pets, and medical needs, as well as a strong, supportive community that looks out for each other. 

What they don’t have is housing and the basic resources many of us take for granted, like running water and electricity. There are groups stepping up to help with these every-day necessities: Showers of Blessing provides showers seven days a week across southern Santa Barbara County to people experiencing homelessness. Unite to Light has been working with Safe Parking since 2017 to provide solar power for small electronics like cell phones, fans and lights. 

The partnership between Safe Parking and Unite to Light started in 2017 with a donor: Mike Tognotti. Mike and his daughter Sofia had been serving food to people experiencing homelessness when he overheard several women discussing how difficult it was to keep their phones charged and how they felt very unsafe at night without light or a working cell phone. Mike learned about the Unite to Light portable, solar products and thought it would be a good match for the needs he had learned. Over two years, Mike and his family sponsored 50 Solar Chargers & Battery Banks that were distributed through Safe Parking. 

Then in 2019 the program made a big leap: funded through SB Gives, a community-driven fundraising effort hosted by The Santa Barbara Independent and The Fund for Santa Barbara, Unite to Light was able to distribute an additional 72 Solar Chargers & Battery Banks; giving light and power to nearly every participant in the Safe Parking Program. 

“We were honored to be selected by Unite to Light to help distribute additional Solar Chargers to our constituents. Based on the feedback over the past two years, we know that solar power enables people to connect to services like housing and jobs. Our clients also save time and money, no longer needing to drive around to find a place to charge their phones,” said Cassie Roach, Program Coordinator and Senior Case Manager of the Safe Parking Program, which is one of four programs offered by New Beginnings Counseling Center. 

“As a supporter of Unite to Light, I was honored to attend the distribution event. One woman explained to me how she can now get sleep due to the fact that she will not have to stay up late finding a place to charge her phone,” said Sofia Tognotti, project supporter.  

“This project is a great example of how one person or a small group can make a big impact. Mike and Sofia’s passion to help the homeless, combined with the amazing Safe Parking community in Santa Barbara, has driven this program from a small pilot project, to a major campaign. We are hoping to roll out this model in cities across the US in the coming year so that more people have access to light and power,” said Megan Birney, President of Unite to Light. 

Visit our webpage dedicated to this project to learn how you can help.
If you want to start a solar power project in your community, contact Unite to Light above.
If you are living in your vehicle or would like to find out more information about New Beginnings’ housing assistance and eviction prevention services in Santa Barbara, please contact their Development Manager above.
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Unite to Light is a not-for-profit 501(c)3. All donations are tax deductible.
EIN: 27-2942180
Address: Unite to Light, 1117 State Street #19, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Phone: (805) 617-0590
Email: admin@unite-to-light.org