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The Problem With Combatting Homelessness Instead of Helping the Homeless



A popular tourist destination and site of massive revenue for Santa Barbara, State Street makes bank off of those looking for a safe, quaint shopping experience. Yet against the backdrop of uniform adobe architecture and terracotta adornments clashes the presence of those without the means to afford a simple residence or sustenance, much less the wares of half of the upscale stores lining the downtown area. For years, residents have clamored over the “uncomfortable” reality of facing men and women lying in tattered clothing along benches across State Street, and organizations such as Casa Esperanza and the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission sprang up to help find a place for the many homeless across the county.

In the past few months, a growing influx of young, aggressive “transients” has added a layer of complexity to the already looming problem of both placating residents and providing resources for the local homeless population.

Frequent visitors to State Street likely have run into a number of these disruptive, sometimes violent panhandlers. I’ve walked the downtown area pretty much every year for the past decade and only within the past two years have I started assessing my safety and avoided passing storefronts or benches with a concentration of mostly young, shouting people.

Recently, Santa Barbara has joined the growing number of cities placing increased pressure on homeless individuals to vacate the streets, through increased police enforcement of the State Street Behavior and Panhandling ordinances and additional stringent measures. Assessing the situation now involves finding a balance between polarizing views in the community.

Faced with endless complaints and calls for a police crackdown, Santa Barbara officials delivered. In March of this year, Police Chief Cam Sanchez ramped up police activity on the 600 block of State Street, focusing on aggressive young homeless people, and prohibited occupation of a brick art installation in front of the downtown Habit restaurant. Beat coordinators patrol the downtown area and alert police to moving homeless encampments.

While increased police presence effectively curbs illegal or overtly disruptive activity, the power of the law and law enforcement endangers the rights of those in the gray area, including the “involuntary homeless” who may loiter around and, in particular, the older homeless population without the resources or ability to care for themselves.

According to Santa Barbara’s Heath Care for the Homeless website, about 6,250 people are experiencing homelessness in the county. Many of these people suffer from mental illnesses or drug-related problems that prevent or deter their completion of effective rehabilitation programs, resulting in hundreds of homeless people with nowhere to turn but the streets. A report by the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness noted 577 homeless individuals have been housed this past year from May 2013 until May 2014 in Santa Barbara County. Of that number, 151 were children, 177 were labeled “Chronic and/or Vulnerable” and 81 were veterans. Of the 577 people moved, 203 were from the City of Santa Barbara specifically.

So Santa Barbara has a problem. Police monitoring of disruptive individuals does work, but it’s an expensive solution to only one facet of a very old issue. According to a June 5 article by the Independent, the Santa Barbara City Council decided this month to reserve $150,000 to hire two private security personnel to monitor State Street and the activity of young, disruptive people on the street.

The Santa Barbara measures come in the midst of controversy over images of “anti-homeless” spikes on private property in London, which recently went viral across the web, with many labeling such “defensive architecture” methods as inhumane. An online petition on Change.org calling to remove the spikes received over 130,000 signatures.

How can we maintain safety of the streets, while addressing the homeless population that needs help? While many local organizations provide effective outreach and temporary resources, a clear solution necessitates housing and ongoing services for the huge population of mentally ill people. Psychotropic medications are only effective if taken regularly, a regularity that is difficult to expect even of people in a stable condition.

While Santa Barbara police are making the streets clearly more enjoyable for those with security and privilege, our jails will continue to fill with not only the violent and aggravating panhandlers, but also the local men and women whose delusions and illness prevent them from communicating and attending to their distress. We need effective measures to distinguish and appropriately provide for both.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.

 

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Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB.
Opinions are submitted primarily by students.

3 Responses to The Problem With Combatting Homelessness Instead of Helping the Homeless

  1. w Reply

    June 27, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    the panhandling can be annoying, but try walking in their shoes for a couple days.

    the city is aggressively trying to push the homeless out of santa barbara because tourists seeing homeless is bad for business. this is a selfish, money interested town.

    its ironic that such a rich town that could easily shoulder the cost to help the homeless would push their homeless to one of the poorer neighboring towns.

    we have panhandlers because there is no place in town for the homeless to eat breakfast or lunch, and the county welfare office where they sign up for foodstamps and general relief is 5 miles away (and the county office refuses to give bus tokens to get there)

    of course you have panhandlers when people refuse to provide for the poor. and there are poor and homeless in every city. some homeless that come to santa barbara have been pushed out of other cities in the same way santa barbara is pushing out their homeless. just help them. stop being greedy.

    if someone thinks the homeless “have it so good with free handouts” like a church feeding a plate of food for dinner and the homeless who are starving all day until 6:00 pm, then why don’t you be homeless if its such a good deal. just be thankful you have a job and a home. if people took care of each other you wouldnt have this problem. the homeless aren’t the problem, we are.

    • James Reply

      October 1, 2014 at 8:31 am

      I have to completely disagree with you. These homeless have so many resources available to them including food, shelter, social welfare, medical etc. The resources are not ideal, and yea life is hard, but they are available so they don’t have to be panhandling, stealing, or drinking. The problem is the homeless don’t take advantage of these resources because either they have mental health issues or because they have drug issues. So, these services, while great for some, are not effective as a whole because there is not enough incentive for the homeless to take advantage of.

      That’s why the laws are in the best interest of SB and the homeless. Either the homeless will leave or they will start using the resources our taxes pay for! These people need help but when they can’t help themselves… they need to leave.

      Yes, in some ways it is about money, but it’s also about humanity and crime. It’s humane to get these people off the streets and into shelters. It’s humane to have them in the jails and get them food, shelter, and medical attention. The cost of trying to help them is wasted time and time again but court mandated programs mandate progress. The homeless needs to be encouraged to get help and the laws do this. If they won’t get help then we need to stop helping them. Ask them what they do with their welfare checks….

      Also, tourism funds these programs…. so if the homeless problem is reducing tourism then its also reducing the funds to support the homeless.

      Hate to say it but increased law enforcement is the best way to help the homelessness problem.

  2. BBT Reply

    June 25, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Brilliant article – point out a problem and offer zero solutions.

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