Activists for Isla Vista’s homeless community can’t always get what they want. But if they try sometimes, they might just find they get the last thing they want.
In this case, it’s a no-camping ordinance.
Everyone always thought it was illegal for the homeless to pitch tents in I.V.’s parks. In January, about 15 homeless people camped out in Anisq’ Oyo’ Park, protesting an unjust law that forbad them from sleeping in the only places in town they could go to sleep. Turns out that despite their best efforts, the homeless weren’t breaking the law.
Everyone had just been assuming – for over a decade – that the county laws prohibiting people from sleeping in parks extended to Isla Vista. They don’t. The laws cover county property only, which doesn’t happen to include the I.V. Recreation and Parks District fiefdom (Ansiq’ Oyo’, Estero Park, Greek Park, Pelican Park, etc., etc.). Nobody had really bothered looking into it, though, because the laws were only loosely enforced.
As with a lot of misdemeanor laws, cops don’t usually bust people for sleeping unless there’s a problem. It’s any cop’s definition of what a problem is when it comes to camping – fighting, drinking, littering, too many people or simply being there. Around here, it was usually only considered a problem if somebody complained to the I.V. Foot Patrol. The unwritten rules were fairly simple: don’t camp out by businesses, don’t make noise and don’t be the first thing someone sees when they look out their window in the morning. If you were homeless and followed these basic rules, you were pretty much OK.
Pretty much OK, that is, unless you wanted shelter from the rain, a place to keep your stuff, clean clothes, a shower or healthcare, which are all things that are not easy to get if you’re, well, homeless. There are a lot of reasons you can end up homeless – chief among them are having bad luck, being crazy or being drunk – and it’s a hard life. Homeless people don’t live to a ripe old age. They die of disease, alcohol or plain old cold weather. These are lousy ways to die and easy to prevent. Yet, two homeless people died this last winter from them. There is no place for I.V.’s homeless to sleep legally. Not one. And forget about healthcare.
So the homeless, led by a few local activists, protested. Turns out: no law. Problem solved?
No. Oh my, no. Not having a law means no one’s happy. The IVRPD and the police don’t have a flexible way of keeping problems with the homeless under control and, worse, they’re legally liable if something goes wrong in their park because they didn’t extend a county ordinance. The homeless activists, meanwhile, still haven’t gotten what they want, which is a legal, permanent campground. Now, a campground wouldn’t do much to solve the basic problem, which is that these folks are homeless – a shelter in Isla Vista would help with that. But no, the activists say a shelter would be demeaning. Shelters have rules: no drinking, no drugs, no pets, no messes. Activists for I.V.’s homeless recently turned down the University Religious Center’s offer of a shelter.
Instead, the homeless are setting up tent villages in the parks. The IVRPD, what with its fondness for public parks and all, are not fond of the squatters’ camps. They’re worried that they’re legally liable if something goes wrong. One particularly gross scenario involves the squatters using the park as a restroom and a park worker discovering the turds via splatter off of a weed whacker. Lawsuit city. The IVRPD is also not about to go for a campground, which includes a lot of said legal liabilities (though not the turd-whacker one), would cost money the board doesn’t have and close off a park to the public. Also, the activists are annoying the IVRPD, because people with a lot of liberal compassion don’t like being accused of lacking liberal compassion. So hey, the IVRPD thinks, how about extending that no-camping law?
If none of this makes any sense to you, don’t worry.
Isla Vista politics are to politics what short buses are to school buses – full of people who, as special as they are, you wouldn’t trust with the sharp scissors.