When New Beginnings began serving Santa Barbara as a nonprofit half a century ago, providing confidential, therapeutic psychological testing, assessment, and counseling to low-income individuals and families in the greater Santa Barbara area was its core mission.
Experienced masters-and-doctoral-level counselors support clients exploring life transitions, relationship issues, and any number of other concerns – including anxiety, depression, grief and loss, trauma, abuse, compulsive behaviors, substance abuse, job loss, stress, aging, isolation, and anger management. New Beginnings has always worked on a pay-what-you-can basis, offering the most affordable sliding scale fee in the area, based on income and other financial circumstances.
But in recent years, the organization has recognized the interconnectivity of other issues for its clients and moved to address those areas by establishing new programs. While counseling remains a foundational program for the agency, there are three new programs that now form a four-pillar approach to achieving its mission to provide quality, affordable counseling, shelter, case management, and education; offerings that strengthen the community and provide clients with the ability to lead healthy and productive lives.
Its Safe Parking Program – which provides safe overnight parking to individuals and families living in their vehicles – is the first of its kind in the nation and has been replicated by dozens of communities, while its Rapid Rehousing component involves case management to transition program participants into permanent housing and employment.
New Beginnings’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program – with the lofty aim of ending veteran homelessness within Santa Barbara County – helps veterans attain housing stability through short-term case management and financial assistance, and its Life Skills Parenting & Education Program teaches critical hands-on skills, mindfulness strategies, and overall life skills to those who need practical tools to establish and maintain stability in their home environments.
One result of all that good work, though, has been that the expansion of services rendered its headquarters in downtown Santa Barbara far too small and obsolete.
“We’ve been needing to hire additional staff – just in a counseling area alone – as the number of associates and psych assistants that we had was increasing to the point where we just literally didn’t have sufficient capacity,” explained Executive Director Kristine Schwarz. “There simply wasn’t enough space for anybody.”
A second office to house the Safe Parking and Rapid Rehousing program specialists came with its own set of issues because of the logistics, she said.
“It was really difficult for the staff and wasn’t good for any sort of collaboration or coordination, not at all efficient or expedient. It made it very challenging to have resource-sharing across programs, when sometimes minutes can make a difference between getting somebody into housing or not.”
When the homeless services programs continued to expand as a result of additional CARES funding and the investment that the state is making into addressing homelessness, there was thought of adding a third office.
Instead, New Beginnings decided to take a prompt from its own name and find a new home to house all of its programs.
The organization’s own new beginning began late last month when they moved into their new home at 530 East Montecito Street, Suite 101, and the New Beginnings Collaborative Center gets its official public debut on Friday, June 9, with a grand opening ribbon cutting celebration.
Even in the few short weeks since the move, the improvement has been palpable, Schwarz said.
“It really is meeting our needs including having a dedicated area for clients. Before, our counseling clients would walk down the same hallway where program and administrative staff were working. There wasn’t a sense of safety. Now it’s much more welcoming and inviting, with a reception area to greet our clients and space for clients to be able to come here and look for resources, jobs, apartments, or get online and fill out a benefit application – whatever they need.”
Schwarz said that by working together in one location in the new location, the staff are now able to provide much more efficient services to New Beginnings’ clients.
“We can collaborate and cross-offer programs. If someone walks in because they’re a veteran seeking housing, they get exposed to other programs that we have and might ask about counseling,” she explained. “They can literally get an intake on the spot.”
The 9,000 square foot New Beginnings Collaborative Center has been a huge boost to staff coordination and morale, Schwarz said, which will result in the ability to serve clients better.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful. Staff and counselors who never really got to interact before are talking to each other and understanding the other programs much better,” she said.
The space can also accommodate many more volunteers than ever before, and Schwarz happily reported that more than a half-dozen applications have already been turned in.
The New Beginnings Collaborative Center is also emphasizing the second half of its name, making arrangements for community partners to have office hours on site, Schwarz said. For example, she’s invited Apples to Zucchini Cooking to take advantage of the center’s huge kitchen to teach young adults and seniors emerging from homelessness how to cook and take care of themselves nutritionally. There are opportunities for other partners to participate.
“This allows for our clients to really have a centralized place where they can access a number of different types of services all right here,” she said.
New Beginnings is still furnishing its new digs, and has a need to stock its pantry and lots of other items. Donations are gratefully accepted any time, including at Friday’s grand opening.
“But really it’s a fun celebration for everyone to enjoy, appreciate the hard work we all do, and see our new digs,” Schwarz said.
Kristine Schwarz. executive director
Through January 31st, donors are invited to match the generous $25,000 matching gift from Sandy Schoolfield and Jon Kechejian for the relocation and expansion of our south county office towards our need to raise $250,000 for this effort.
We provide mental health counseling to low-income community members and end homelessness for individuals, families, and veterans throughout Santa Barbara County. Through four core programs, we serve approximately 2,000 people each year.
Executive Director: Kristine Schwarz
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My husband, Jon, and I believe that New Beginnings provides many vital services to the homeless and underserved mentally ill in our community through a host of successful and nationally recognized programs. They could do an even better and more efficient job if they could consolidate their outdated office space that is currently spread out in several locations into one location better designed to support their programs. Jon and I are glad to support this important initiative to help New Beginnings relocate into much needed new office space.”
In 2023, New Beginnings plans to centralize its main office and bring three locations under one roof in Santa Barbara. To do that, the nonprofit will need a commercial landlord willing to rent to an agency that works with veterans, the homeless, and people struggling with mental illness, and financial assistance from generous donors totaling $250,000.
Donations are also always needed to cover things government assistance won’t, like appliances, beds, medical assistive devices, renter’s application fees, renter’s insurance, and more. New Beginnings Executive Director Kristine Schwarz’s other major ask is an appeal to landlords and property managers to help serve the unhoused by making units available for them to rent and live in.
“We need landlords and property managers to work with us,” Schwarz says, noting that they have dozens of people housed all over the county who they provide supportive housing retention services for on a daily basis.
New Beginnings reaches out to provide services to members of our community who most need a hand. One of their innovative programs is Safe Parking. My late husband Gary encouraged New Beginnings to write a manual that outlined the details of the program with the intent of sharing it with other cities. That manual and Safe Parking has now gone far beyond Santa Barbara, and is helping hundreds of people. I am pleased to support New Beginnings and all its good works.
Warren B. Ritter II