Although it has been illegal for people to camp and sleep in Isla Vista parks at night since 2002, transients continue to do so – an issue yet to be resolved between the I.V. Foot Patrol and the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District.
Officials from both groups claim continuing miscommunication has led to a spotty enforcement of the IVRPD resolution, passed in 2002, which makes it unlawful for anyone to sleep in the parks from a half-hour after sunset until 6 a.m. Those found in violation of the ordinance are subject to a $20 fine and not allowed to return to the park for 12 hours after their citation.
“I was told previously by a board member that they prefer the ordinance not be enforced,” IVFP Lt. Sol Linver said. “So we are not enforcing it until we get clear direction from the board.”
For over 10 years prior to the resolution’s passage, the IVRPD and IVFP had been functioning under the assumption that a Santa Barbara county ordinance prohibiting camping and sleeping on county property included I.V. District parks. However, in 2002 the District discovered that the county law applied only to county-owned property, excluding IVRPD-owned parks.
The IVRPD passed the resolution in 2002 – despite protests from advocates of the homeless – citing the immense problems that could stem from legal liabilities and sanitary issues.
IVRPD board member Diane Conn said the district has not given ordinance 2002-002 its full backing because it wants only to prevent an influx of transients into I.V., not an exodus of local homeless out of the area.
“When we first passed the ordinance it was very controversial, but before that, people were coming from all over the county and when there are outsiders, there is more fighting [between transients],” Conn said. “Even when we passed it, we didn’t want to criminalize sleeping, only camping needed to be cited.”
Conn said the IVRPD has requested that the Foot Patrol only cite transients camping in I.V., not those sleeping in parks. However, she said the IVFP stopped enforcing the law altogether when the board requested this.
“The ordinance was aimed at the people who had taken residence,” Conn said. “We passed sleeping and camping because the IVFP requested it to protect their officers. When we told the IVFP that we were not in support of citing sleeping, they decided that they would not enforce the ordinance all together.”
However, since the resolution’s passage, there has been some difficulty in interpreting sleeping versus camping, as permitting sleeping could allow sleeping bags – another technicality to be worked out between the two organizations.
Several members of the IVRPD board and Linver said a meeting between the two organizations, or at least more communication, is necessary for anything to be accomplished. No meeting is planned currently.
“We need to have a conversation,” Conn said. “[Linver] has been inaccessible. That communication we had had broken down. It’s improving, but we’ll see.”
Meanwhile, Linver said the IVFP is working on other measures to curb the transient problem in I.V. The Restorative Police Program is in effect and has had promising results, Linver said. The program provides special training for Foot Patrol officers to help them deal with the issues unique to the lives of homeless people.
“It will continue to get homeless people the help they need,” Linver said. “As of now we have gotten five people off the streets and into housing. We want to go in and be able to say ‘Hey, you can’t live in parks, but let’s look for a better place to live.'”
One local transient, who goes by the name of Robert, said he has had multiple run-ins with the IVFP, but not enough to prevent him from sleeping in I.V. parks. He also said there has been more enforcement of the ordinance in recent months.
“Some Mexican from Silvergreens told me ‘Vamanos’ and then an IVFP guy said to get out. But they only told me I had to go, not the other guys who were sleeping there too. They had the same stuff I had, ” Robert said. “It’s kind of a recent thing they’ve been doing this.”
Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, whose constituency includes I.V., said Isla Vista parks should adhere to county laws that prohibit the sleeping and camping of transients in public places.
“I think I.V. should be in conformity with the rest of the county,” Firestone said. “It is difficult for one community to be as it is if it were the only place.”
Until the problem is solved, Conn said, the best advice she can give to students is not to give transients money. She also said that if people want to help they can donate to a food bank or to Saint Bridget’s Fellowship, a recently developed center that provides services for the homeless.
“These people are unhealthy and mentally ill,” she said. “A lot of them are addicted to meth. We just need more time and more services.”