About 15 transient Isla Vista residents set up camp in Anisqu’ Oyo’ Park Sunday evening, calling the pouring rain the last straw for a group that says it is tired of having nowhere to sleep safely and legally.
Protesters cited the Jan. 12 death of homeless resident Deva Redwood – who friends say died partly due to the stress of being homeless – as a prime example of the need to change county law, which prohibits sleeping and camping in pubic areas from sunset until 6 a.m. the next day. Long time I.V. resident Jenny Jett – who estimated that there are about 50 homeless adults in I.V. – said the protesters planned to stay in the park through Monday Jan. 28.
One of the protesters, Chris Omer, said the group hopes to get attention from the community and put pressure on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, as well as the I.V. Recreation and Parks District, to open up some sort of emergency shelter. Eventually, Omer said, they hope to establish a permanent campground in I.V. where the homeless can legally park cars and set up tents to sleep in.
“This is something that’s been festering for years, because in Santa Barbara County it’s illegal to sleep outside,” he said. “People are issued tickets, are unable to pay the fine, and then go to jail – it’s a cycle.”
Tonight, the Santa Barbara City Council will consider a proposal to legalize overnight vehicle parking, allowing homeless citizens to sleep in their cars. Omer said the proposal is a step in the right direction, but not adequate.
Jett said I.V. locals would like to create a non-profit organization, which would ultimately run and fund a campground, with help from Marborg Industries for bathroom facilities.
“We need someplace where people in vans can park, so we can share the same facilities [with] a campground. The idea is an economically sustainable place for people to be stable, so they can get their art off the ground, or get a job – the things you can’t do when you’re not stable,” Jett said. “[The non-profit organization] would be responsible for the campground and Marborg would supply the facilities. We don’t want any costs to the taxpayers.”
Isla Vista Foot Patrol Lt. Russ Birchim said deputies spoke to the group on Monday afternoon, and explained they would have to issue tickets if they stayed past sunset on Monday. By late Monday night, no citations had been issued.
“We talked to them today,” Birchim said. “They told us they wanted to make a point about not having a place to sleep. It’s a peaceful, nonviolent protest. We did inform them that tonight we will be issuing citations. They’ve been very cooperative. The talk today wasn’t anything adversarial.”
However, longtime Isla Vistan Dave Doyle, known as “Guitar Dave,” said he would not be leaving until he was “in handcuffs.”
“There are too many of us dying. We need a place. Do you know how many people could rise up if we had a tent to sleep in, if we didn’t have to worry about getting arrested?” he said. “This is America – we’re sending millions of dollars [abroad] – what about the homeland? We’re not asking much. We just want somewhere we can go.”
According to Birchim, the IVFP is fairly lax in enforcing the sleeping and camping laws; Doyle said he sees citations issued every other night.
“[Right now] they have tents set up on the stage. It’s pretty obvious,” Birchim said. “We don’t normally cite them for that unless it gets overblown or obvious and we start getting complaints.”
“It’s hard to say how many people are cited,” Omer said. “From what I understand, at different times people get more tickets than others … Out of sight, out of mind is the attitude, but that doesn’t solve anything.”
The IVRPD created a Homeless Task Force last spring, in response to mounting pressures from I.V. businesses and the homeless. IVRPD Director Derek Johnson said the lack of response on the state and federal level has put agencies like the IVRPD in an awkward position because they don’t have the resources to respond. He said the district generally just passes along complaints to the foot patrol.
“Some homeless believe that the park district should open a homeless campground,” Johnson said. “I’ve looked into it, and that would cost between a half and three-quarters of a million dollars, and it’s not solution orientated. It’s a regional problem, and that’s what the Homeless Task Force is doing, working with government officials to solve the problem.”
Omer said the Task Force has been ineffectual, and it is time for the community to put direct pressure on local government agencies.
“The Homeless Task Force calls the cops on the homeless,” Doyle said. “They’ve done nothing.”