'Fighting Back' Combats Teen and Young Adult Homelessness In Santa Maria

  • February 23, 2021
  • By Joshua D. Scroggin

It’s easy not to notice a young person experiencing homelessness. Whether they are couch surfing, living in a homeless shelter or making camp in a riverbed on the outskirts of town, for many, these folks are out of sight and out of mind.

Fighting Back: Santa Maria Valley makes them a priority. The local non-profit prides itself on finding these young people and helping them — and they know exactly where to look.

Each week, Fighting Back staff are out at mobile showers set up to serve the homeless population, they’re setting up tables at the edge of the riverbed and they’re driving through local parks trying to make an emotional connection with any young person who appears to be at risk. “Our staff is building relationships and genuinely showing that they care,” said Executive Director Edwin Weaver. “Nobody wants to listen to people who don’t care. Our team shows a lot compassion for our community.”

Fighting Back was one of four area charities to receive a $500 sponsorship from the CoastHills Credit Union Community Action Sponsorship program this month. Community Action Committee members were drawn to Fighting Back’s passion for serving an oft overlooked population, transitional age youth. In 2020 alone, Fighting Back met with 98 homeless young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 in the Santa Maria area. That figure doesn’t include the many that the organization was able to rehouse with family members or the younger teens who’ve run away, been thrown out at home or had their parents deported with no one left to take care of them.

Fighting back works as a coalition with a goal to help them all, partnering with local schools, governments, law enforcement and other nonprofits. Established in 2003 with the purpose of fighting the battle against rising teen methamphetamine addiction, Fighting Back has since developed a wide range of programs aimed at helping kids and young adults kick drugs, stay in and complete school and find permanent housing.

With 30 full-time employees and four interns, Fighting Back helps its clients get the resources they need, including mental health services and assistance registering for government documents they need to gain access to support programs. They also screen clients for human trafficking. In the case of two recent young ladies, Fighting Back helped one enter a treatment program and reunited another with family members back home.  

“We get runaways off the street,” Weaver said. That includes engaging with schools and families, providing mental health triage, collaborating with other agencies and beyond.

Fighting Back even purchased and opened “Resilient Place,” a house that provides permanent supportive housing and case management for up to four clients at a time. Fighting Back helps residents find work, even fighting to get one resident’s criminal record expunged to aid in that effort. Like many local nonprofits, Fighting Back’s fundraising efforts have been challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has no planned fundraisers and encourages supporters looking to help to visit the Fighting Back website and consider donating to the cause.

“We can use financial support. It’s been really hard to continue services with the pandemic. There have been cuts with some of our funders,” Weaver said. He encouraged those looking to help “to go to our website and donate.”

Fighting Back accepts PayPal, credit card and mailed checks, and donations are tax deductible.

In addition to Fighting Back, the CoastHills Community Action Sponsorship program also approved $500 donations to Lompoc Family YMCA, sustainable farming organization Slow Money San Luis Obispo and dog shelter program Shadow’s Fund.

To support any of this month’s organizations, please visit their websites, which are linked above. Plus, if you know of a local nonprofit seeking funding, the CoastHills Community Action sponsorship program can fund up to $500 per organization per year. Applications can be found and submitted online at the Credit Union’s website.

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