Santa Barbara is looking to tackle its transient problem and significantly reduce the number of panhandlers on State Street.
Last week, the city council voted unanimously to adopt a new 12-point plan for curbing aggressive panhandling and extending resources to the city’s homeless population. The plan specifically targets the transient population on and around State Street and seeks to help business owners and other residents affected by rampant panhandling.
Councilmembers Iya Falcone, Dale Francisco and Helene Schneider presented the plan to the council at last Tuesday’s meeting. According to Schneider, the plan will push education as a solution to the homeless situation, while stricter regulations, harsher penalties and increased funding will also be key.
In all, the plan – which is the product of community feedback collected through a series of nine meetings dating back to last June – is comprised of a dozen recommendations aimed at improving enforcement, prevention and intervention.
To curb begging, the council has suggested the implementation of an “alternative giving” program. Loosely based off a Denver program that asks residents to give money to a general fund targeted at preventing homelessness instead of individual panhandlers, Councilmember Das Williams proposed the idea of using what he called “compassion coupons.”
“The goal is a compassion, not cash, program,” Williams said. Under his plan, coupons purchased from local businesses would serve as a form of currency, which the homeless could exchange for hygiene kits and cups of coffee. “Compassion is imperative, but directly giving them money is just handing them a gun to shoot themselves with,” Williams added.
Panhandling is not the real issue, Williams noted, but instead a symptom of the more serious underlying problem.
“I think that currently [business owners] are angry and think that [panhandling] impacts their livelihood,” Williams said. “They don’t want to admit that there’s a homeless problem.”
Education, both for the homeless and those battling to reduce the problem, is an important part of addressing the overarching issue, Schneider said. The proposed education programs include teaching law enforcement officers how to properly interact with the homeless and engage with the relevant non-profit groups.
“A big piece of [the plan] is creating greater connections between police and non-profit teams,” Schneider said. “So, when police officers encounter someone who is homeless, they have a stronger connection with the homeless outreach program that can provide help for that individual.”
Other recommendations proposed by the committee involved a “Recovery Zone or Alcohol Impact Zone” on Milpas Street to enforce liquor license laws and target negative behavior through increased penalties and treatment requirements.
The council agreed that the subcommittee, made up of Falcone, Francisco and Schneider, will meet again in two months to discuss the plan’s progress and will return to the council in a year with a status report.