Collaboration Aids Homeless Families

Two community-minded Impact Hub members are collaborating to help bring hope to some 500 homeless children, women and men who live out of their vehicles in Santa Barbara County.

Megan Birney and Mike Tognotti met at Impact Hub on State Street not long ago and found that they share the desire to help those in need. They noticed that they both carried Patagonia backpacks. With that common ground, the talked about what they agreed was needed to be done for the community and how they could help.

A long-time South Coast community activist, Megan now runs the nonprofit Unite to Light Inc., which sells solar-powered reading lamps and cell-phone chargers. When someone buys one of the devices, another goes to a person without one in a Third World country.

“We usually send them to developing countries, but this time we’re providing some for homeless in Santa Barbara,” Megan said.

In collaboration with Mike and the church he attends, the lamps and chargers are provided to people living out of their cars and vans in a “safe parking lot library.” It’s a pilot program that will determine if the devices are going to people who need them and won’t just sell them.

The nonprofit New Beginnings Safe Parking Program has provided case management and outreach to the homeless and safe overnight parking to individuals and families living in their vehicles since 2004 in cooperation with churches, governmental and non-profit agencies and businesses.

Mike said the lamps provide light after sunset for women who will feel safer with them and for children who can read at night. The phone chargers allow the homeless to communicate when their batteries run low. He said many homeless people living out of their cars have jobs, but no place to go after they finish work.

“The light provides a little hope that these people in need find very gratifying,” Mike said. He said he saw a 9-year-old girl who lives in a car with her mother. “I have a 10-year-old daughter,” he said. “Perhaps the homeless girl can read after it gets dark.”

Megan said the people who received the lights and chargers are very happy to see that someone in the community cares about them. “They are part of the community, too,” she said.

Megan and Mike said the pilot program just started after they discussed it at Impact Hub and brought other businesses and nonprofit groups in to support it. Mike said if it is successful, the program could be expanded into other cities.   

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