Isla Vistans campaigning to let the homeless sleep in the park mean well, but they should aim higher than the right to sleep outside.
For most of the past eight years, I’ve volunteered a few hours each week helping the homeless. My experience has been that the staff and volunteers at shelters work very hard to help people obtain jobs, education, drug rehab, and affordable housing. Isla Vistans who really want to help the homeless should give their time, effort, and money to shelters with programs that help people become self-sufficient.
I currently volunteer at Transition House, a shelter for parents and children. In addition to food, shelter, and clothing, Transition House provides a computer lab for rŽsumŽs and training, childcare when parents are at work or school, well connected staff members who know local employers, and assistance finding housing, job training, ESL classes, and even business suits for job interviews. Sixty percent of the residents become self-sufficient, an excellent statistic in the bleak world of homelessness. Similar programs for adults without children exist at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and other shelters.
Having read the coverage of this issue in the Nexus, I can predict that some students will tell me that it’s unfair to expect the homeless in Isla Vista to leave their community and go to a shelter downtown. To them I say either start a shelter with similar programs in I.V. or volunteer downtown, but don’t waste your time fighting for the right to remain homeless.
Other students might have heard stories of how harsh and strict the shelters are. I heard those stories from people living on skid row in Los Angeles. In a community like Isla Vista, with a healthy skepticism of authority and conformity, those complaints may fall on sympathetic ears. However, there’s nothing wrong with asking that shelter residents abide by the schedule, perform chores, search for a job, save money, and abstain from drugs and alcohol. The expectations are reasonable, those who comply receive help and compassion, and the results are rewarding for the residents, the staff, and the volunteers.
Alex Small is a physics graduate student.