I can gently take getting bashed by the Nexus because I’m not the only one in town who bears the brunt of criticism. It’s a part of life. What bothers me is the misrepresentation of events and misinformation in the argument that was offered in last week’s staff editorial (Daily Nexus, Feb. 26, “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”). The editorial seemed more like a personal attack than a critical assessment of the homeless movement in town.
First off, the memorial for those who passed away during the last year was a beautiful gathering for the community. I give praise to the organizers because the reality of death left a deep imprint on many lives in Isla Vista this last year, including myself. I didn’t intend on bringing any sort of negativity to the day, nor do I feel I used the event as a political soapbox. I went to express remembrance for two homeless people, Jeremy and Deva, who passed away recently on the street. I acknowledged their lives and their strong presence in the community, especially Deva, who lived in Isla Vista for more years than I’ve been alive. And I offered a chance for people to open their hearts to the alcoholism apparent on the street because Deva died, in part, due to his addiction.
I went on to explain that for many people alcoholism is a symptom of the stress which comes with living on the street. Most people, including myself, cannot relate to what it must feel like to live, day in and day out, in their position. I offered a chance for people to at least try to understand what it’s like because this helps ease tension in many ways. I feel this truth because I have friends who told me they didn’t drink before their lives took a turn for the worst, and they found themselves struggling with the harassment, abundance of stereotypes and the day-to-day difficulties of being homeless.
I didn’t even mention the word campground or the word shelter as I spoke, yet the Nexus claims I “demanded that the homeless have a place to stay in Isla Vista – but not a shelter.” They call me self righteous and obnoxious for bringing these thoughts to the memorial. I was speaking words from my heart; nothing I spoke was prepared for. Because of this, I felt grounded in the spirit which allowed my words to flow. If this came across as preaching, it was not received as my heart intended.
The other project mentioned in the editorial was the More Ways Than One beach clean up for the homeless funded by the Shoreline Preservation Fund. I started this over a year ago and passed it on to another student in the fall. Recently, the board decided not to give the project funding because a few stipulations – including statistics on trash gathered and hours completed – were unfulfilled. Hopefully, once these stipulations are fulfilled, the project will once again receive major funding. This is a minor setback that doesn’t render the project ineffective or unworthy. Anyone on the board will tell you of the positive nature involved with the work being done in this project.
The board also cut the amount of stipends each individual received for their involvement, and many people felt this was unjust. So, I addressed the board as to why I had originally established the stipend in hope they would amend their previous decision. I still feel strongly about paying people a fair wage in accordance with the local costs of living, even if homeless don’t pay rent. Who knows, maybe if people were paid more in this county for their work, more people could actually afford to pay rent.
They may criticize my work and the homeless movement in town, but the Nexus should strengthen its position, especially when their editorials involve negative repercussions on the homeless community and myself. It would have helped to actually talk with us before taking cheap shots in a public forum.
Now, as a people, we move toward addressing criminalizing sleeping in parks based on a law that didn’t even exist. The Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District never adopted the county’s anti-sleeping ordinance, and so this Thursday they will attempt to adopt an ordinance that covers their legal liability. Hopefully, this new ordinance will cover their liability without further criminalizing people for a basic human necessity such as sleeping. E-mail me at for more information about this Thursday’s meeting.
Chris Omer is a homeless Isla Vista resident and a UCSB graduate.