Perhaps – just perhaps – the speaker’s platform at a memorial service is the wrong place to push a political agenda.
Chris Omer, a homeless UCSB graduate, got up at a memorial service on Sunday for the people who died in the last year and a half. Omer eulogized the two homeless people who died recently, talked about alcoholism and demanded that the homeless have a place to stay in Isla Vista – but not a shelter. What the homeless need, Omer says, is a free campground.
Just because making demands at a memorial service is crass, insensitive, self-righteous and obnoxious does not mean Omer is wrong. He is wrong because he is shooting down a practical idea like a shelter because it’s not something more ideologically pure. Omer, who says he chose to forgo the “rewards and privilege that a degree offers in this capitalistic society” when he graduated last June, wants the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District to turn one of I.V.’s parks into a campground for the homeless. Somehow, a campground would be better than an oh-so-drab shelter by being, uh, a squatters’ camp.
The IVRPD, hardly a pack of right-wing zealots, shot the proposal down. They don’t have the money, and besides being a blight on the town, a free campground would be a legal liability. Because of the lack of research Omer and those like him put into their oversimplified and often-flawed arguments there probably won’t be a shelter, either.
Advocates for Isla Vista’s homeless have a way of killing off useful ideas.
Take, for example, the “More Ways Than One” project. Started last year by Omer, the project paid homeless people to pick up trash off the beach. It was a great project. “More Ways Than One” got its money from the Shoreline Preservation Fund, another group not associated with right-wing zealotry. All SPF asked was that the group involve as many people as possible, keep track of how much trash they picked up and where the money went. “More Ways Than One” did not keep track of the trash or the money. To afford to pay more people, the group cut its wages from $10 per hour to $7 per hour. It blamed the pay cut on SPF, and then went before the board and demanded a budget increase so it could pay the homeless “a living wage.”
Now, a living wage is calculated on how much the wage earners in a family of four need to be paid per hour in a 40-hour week for everyone to make rent and eat. Santa Barbara’s own living-wage campaign figured that this needs to be about $13 an hour, without benefits. “More Ways Than One” employed homeless people for five hours a week, and set its own budget, meaning it could pay whatever wages it liked.
The cost of living, said the group and living-wage advocates, has gone up. For the homeless. Right. Never mind that the only part of the cost of living that goes up or down quickly is rent. Never mind that – the SPF is obviously cruel and oppressive because it wanted “More Ways Than One” to keep track of what it was doing.
Maybe there’s a reason Isla Vista’s homeless don’t get what they want or even what they need.