Approximately 40 people gathered at the University Religious Center on Wednesday night to discuss whether or not homeless people should be legally permitted to sleep in Isla Vista parks.
During the two-hour meeting participants debated the interests and concerns of both opponents and advocates of the proposed law, but little was resolved.
On Feb. 7, the I.V. Recreation and Parks District discovered that county law, which prohibits sleeping and camping in most county parks, does not apply to parks under its jurisdiction. The five-member board will vote April 18 on how to handle the homeless situation.
An IVRPD ad-hoc committee, which consists of board members Harley Augustino and Pegeen Soutar, organized Wednesday night’s meeting – the second of two – in order to gauge public opinion before suggesting a solution to the IVRPD.
Sleeping ordinance opponents’ concerns centered on public safety, sanitation and the increasing number of homeless people in the community.
“The Sheriff Department’s main concern is public safety,” I.V. Foot Patrol Lt. Russ Birchim said. “We’ve had a large influx of homeless since this all started and it’s starting to affect the parks. There are more fights and drinking in the parks.”
“Influx isn’t a problem. The numbers that do come over here are ready to help,” homeless advocate Lawrence Herrara said.
Opponents of the law said they were also concerned about cleanliness and sanitation.
IVRPD park groundskeeper George Green said there are not enough people on staff to take care of the parks and they are not prepared to deal with much of the waste the homeless leave behind.
“Our people out there cleaning parks are trained to be grounds workers, not sanitation workers,” he said. “They have to deal with human waste. They are not trained for that. Our folks have taken a lot of verbal grief from the people in the parks.”
I.V. resident and property owner Constance Brown said she was mainly worried about the trash left behind by the homeless on Camino Corto near the path many I.V. Elementary School students use to walk to and from school.
“The people themselves were not a danger to us, but the children – including mine – came back with syringes and broken bottles,” she said. “There is broken stuff and feces. It is what is left there that is a danger.”
The homeless who were present urged the committee to consider the possibility that waste such as syringes and broken bottles might actually belong to students and other members of the I.V. community.
“The committee is now going to meet and discuss all the input and concerns and see if we can come up with a humane solution,” Augustino said.
The decision will be announced at the next IVRPD meeting on April 18 at 7 p.m. at the University Religious Center, which is located at 777 Camino Pescadero.