David Walter has been a houseless resident in Isla Vista since the mid-1980s and suffers from degenerative rheumatoid arthritis.
“I was laying in the park, beautiful day, nice and warm,” Walter said. “Laying down in the park soaking up sun feels quite good on the bones. Two sheriffs walked up, said I was sleeping. I was just lying in the park, I wasn’t sleeping. Cop was like ‘You were sleeping.’”
On-site manager at Pescadero Lofts and Clinical Social Worker at Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics Jennifer Ferraez said houseless residents, including those in I.V., are regularly asked by law enforcement to leave local parks.
“I often tell folks out there to ask the officers ‘Where should I move to?’ just to get them thinking a little bit,” Ferraez said. “I had one guy that looked an officer right in the eye and said ‘What you want me to just disappear?’ I mean you can’t keep telling people to move. And move and move and move. Downtown I actually knew of a guy who was given four tickets in one night.”
But it was the fact that those cops came over and rousted me for that ticket with no probable cause. – David Walter
Walter said he then received a ticket from two officers from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for sleeping in an I.V. park.
“He made his point and said that I was doing this,” Walter said. “No evidence of the fact. He didn’t wake me up. He walked up and I rolled over. But he made his point clear that I was sleeping. So they wrote me a ticket.”
Walter said he sought help from Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County Supervising Attorney for Homeless Advocacy Program, Emily Allen.
“I took the ticket down to a lawyer; she took it down to the city attorney’s office,” Walter said. “The officers who wrote me the ticket had to come down and hand deliver an envelope to me with the dismissal of the ticket. But it was the fact that those cops came over and rousted me for that ticket with no probable cause.”
According to Allen, the lack of a day center in I.V. contributes to houseless residents occupying local parks.
“There’s not a day center or a place where people can really go and even in Santa Barbara there’s limited access to day centers,”
Allen said. “You have to really consider what options people really have because there’s certain things like sleeping, resting, they’re necessities.”
Christmas morning two cops showed up and threw everybody’s stuff in a pickup truck … they poured kitchen grease on a dude’s bedroll, cut up a bunch of tarps and sleeping bags with knives. It all went through the court system and shit. – Carl, a 10 year houseless resident of I.V.
California Penal Code 647(e) and 647(f) prohibit individuals from taking up lodging and being under the influence of alcohol or drugs in public spaces, the most common behaviors for which houseless individuals receive misdemeanor fines, according to Allen, who said there are resources available to houseless individuals who choose to challenge a fine.
“They’re entitled to legal representation, which usually for people who are low income they’re entitled to the help of a public defender,” Allen said. “There’s not tons of lawyers jumping to take on those cases always, but we’ll try to help them connect with an attorney who does that paperwork. If it’s an infraction or misdemeanor, they can set up a trial and argue for the facts of the case.”
The Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD) established an ordinance in April 2002 specifically prohibiting sleeping from after sunset to 6 a.m. and camping, including but not limited to the use of tents, bedding and cooking facilities, in I.V. parks.
“Violation of this ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than thirty (30) days and by fine of one hundred dollars ($100.00) or the maximum allowed by law at the time of violation,” the ordinance states.
IVRPD General Manager Rodney Gould said the ordinance only prohibits camping, not napping, and he believes the Isla Vista Foot Patrol (IVFP) enforces the IVRPD ordinances fairly.
“There is no ordinance against napping in the parks but there is an ordinance against camping in the parks,” Gould said in an email. “Our goal is to have all of our parks safe and accessible for all residents of Isla Vista, including the houseless.”
Across the country, non-profit organizations and legislatures are introducing laws to decriminalize houselessness and allow them to freely move, sleep, eat, perform religious observations and occupy legally parked vehicles in public without being subject to harassment or criminal sanctions. One such bill, the Right to Rest Act, proposed in the California, Colorado and Oregon State Assemblies, was developed this year by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), an organization that aims to expose and eliminate civil rights abuses.
WRAP Executive Director Paul Boden said while the bill was voted down in all three states, its supporters would rather see the legislation be defeated and reintroduced next year, rather than allow it to be amended in order to pass.
“The only reason ours died in all three states is we refused to [amend the bill],” Boden said. “We look at the 1,400 street outreaches that we documented … the priorities jump out in what people told us and we will never amend a piece of legislation that we wrote to address that shit just to get it passed.”
Boden said there is a national tendency towards discriminating against the houseless by criminalizing their activities, and existing laws are unfairly enforced.
“Throughout the country we’re criminalizing activities that everybody does,” Boden said. “But only certain people do it in public spaces. Although I would say everybody stands still in public spaces, everybody sits down in public spaces. But granted not everybody sleeps in public spaces except houseless people.”
IVFP Lieutenant Rob Plastino said IVFP monitors houseless residents the same as any other member of the I.V. community and actively works to develop a positive relationship between the two parties.
“If they need help, we help them. If they are in violation then we have to give them a ticket or what have you,” Plastino said. “But we’ve developed rapport with most of them because we know them on a first name basis, or by their nickname they like to go by. One of my sergeants in particular, Rich Brittingham, he has been very very key in going out there and getting to know the houseless and really making a difference in bridging that gap between them.”
One officer drove all the way to Goleta beach in search of my bike but then he said ‘I think that’s out of my jurisdiction Clyde,’ and I said ‘Well thank you.’ – Clyde, a houseless resident of I.V.
UC Police Department (UCPD) Community Relations and Training Sergeant Rob Romero also said UCSB officers respond to homeless individuals in the same way as any other service call.
“We listen, ask questions, identify the issue, and try to make the most appropriate decision through training guided by law and policy,” Romero said in an email. “We do assist with connecting services to the homeless, such as shelters and food banks. We also can and have contacted several outreach programs to help individuals get off the street and into programs that deal with substance abuse, mental health, and getting back into the workforce.”
Clyde, a houseless resident of I.V. for the last 15 years, said the houseless community does have good relationships with officers from IVFP and the UCPD, including Brittingham.
“They’re leaving some of the other ones [houseless individuals] alone who they know are not a threat,” Clyde said. “Yeah, no I’m good with them, they ask me, ‘How you doing Clyde? What’s up today?’ One officer drove all the way to Goleta beach in search of my bike but then he said ‘I think that’s out of my jurisdiction Clyde,’ and I said ‘Well thank you.’ So yeah there are a few of them that will go out of their way.”
Ferraez said the houseless situation in I.V. has always been subject to change.
“In general in Isla Vista there have been ebbs and flows; there have been times that it seemed like things were going in a healthier direction in terms of really helping people and supporting people getting to the next step out of homelessness,” Ferraez said. “Then other times where it just felt like they were being bombarded by senseless tickets that they couldn’t pay. So there are waves of that depending on who’s out there on the street.”
A shift towards positive interactions between law enforcement and houseless residents took place over the last three years following an event on Dec. 25, 2011 which local houseless residents term the “Christmas Day Massacre.” Ten-year houseless I.V. resident Carl, who prefers to be identified with an alias, said he witnessed the event and later testified in court against the officers involved.
“Christmas morning two cops showed up and threw everybody’s stuff in a pickup truck … they poured kitchen grease on a dude’s bedroll, cut up a bunch of tarps and sleeping bags with knives,” Carl said. “It all went through the court system and shit. Just what they done was wrong. Just wrong. I testified against them. They were punished, but I don’t think their punishment was enough.”
Carl said since the Christmas Day Massacre he has seen a decrease in the amount of force officers use when interacting with houseless individuals.
“I think the criminal part of it against the houseless has probably lightened up just because they got in so much trouble because of that Christmas Day Massacre shit,” Carl said. “You don’t see body slamming anymore; you don’t see illegal search and seizures, which used to be really common out here.”
Clyde said he believes the death of his friend, Diane Winkelman, shortly after the massacre was a result of the officers “brutal” treatment.
“[The officers’ actions on Dec. 25, 2011] caused some people to get chilly that night and cold the next day and some of them weren’t very good and one of them was my friend, Diane Winkelman, who’s not around us no longer,” Clyde said. “She was a drinker, but still, that probably contributed to her drinking more and trying to stay warm, you know? Yeah it was really bad. There was no need for that. That was just straight brutal.”
Just what they done was wrong. Just wrong. I testified against them. They were punished, but I don’t think their punishment was enough. – Carl, a 10 year houseless resident of I.V.
Plastino also said he believes the events that took place in December 2011 marked a turning point in the relationship between law enforcement and houseless individuals.
“When I got out here that was kind of in the back memory but it was still something that we all have to realize that they have a right to their personal property,” Plastino said. “If you are arresting them you have to take control of that property and take it with you to the jail, if they are going to jail, or you have to put it someplace they can easily get to it when they get out. So it’s not acceptable to just throw their stuff away … this is something that will never be breached again in my hope.”
In December 2014, Pescadero Lofts opened its doors to at least 32 houseless individuals. The three-story rental housing project was designed to provide long-term houseless residents in I.V. with permanent housing in fully furnished apartments. Funded by the federal government and the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Barbara, Pescadero Lofts offers residents a stable community where services for the houseless are more accessible, according to Ferraez.
“Traditionally the housing mindset is to put people in housing only after they have all their ducks in a row, after they have their medication, after they’re sober, after they have their physical health stuff stable,” Ferraez said. “This is about putting people as they are into housing and then bringing supportive services to them.”
Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who gathered support from the SB County Board of Supervisors for the Pescadero Lofts, said the idea for the project was modeled after similar facilities in Santa Barbara.
“I learned of a project being built in the city of Santa Barbara that had the premise and philosophy of housing first, which means that you can provide services to people without a home,” Farr said. “So the idea was you find a place for them to live first and then you bring the services to them.”
Many of the houseless residents who have lived in I.V. for decades chose to remain in the area rather than move elsewhere to find more affordable housing because of their love for the community, according to Farr.
“We found that because they felt that Isla Vista was their home even if there was an apartment or a place for them to go someplace else that they would be referred to, they really didn’t want to go there,” Farr said. “They really wanted to stay in the community. So it was important to create that kind of housing right here in Isla Vista.”
Plastino said he believes the opening of the Pescadero Lofts contributed to an improving relationship between houseless residents and law enforcement officials.
“I would say for the most part things have really come a long way,” Plastino said. “It’s gone from kind of an adversarial relationship with law enforcement where we just kept dinging them, dinging them, ‘Hey you’re camping in the parks,’ ‘Hey you gotta move your stuff,’ to now you have an option you have the ability to potentially go to the Pescadero Lofts.”
County Director of Housing Development John Polanskey said selected applicants to take up residence at Pescadero Lofts were typically well known members of the I.V. community.
“Many of these people have been on the streets decades and so they were well known and the only reason some of them were still on the street quite frankly was they wanted to stay in Isla Vista because they consider that their home, but there wasn’t any housing they could afford until Pescadero Lofts,” Polanskey said.
Father Jon Hedges, a pastor at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, ADMHS (Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services) Outreach Case Manager with Santa Barbara County, said he was excited that nine of the 32 units at Pescadero Lofts are now occupied by veterans.
“My advocacy for them probably comes from, to a certain extent, the loss of one of my uncles who came back after World War II and ended up homeless, because he couldn’t quite get back on track after horrible combat experience,” Hedges said. “He ended up dying on the streets himself while I was a young man. I watched what happened to him, and right from that point I knew that we had to do better.”
Anybody that is going through something like that [foreclosures] is probably going to go towards drinking for a bit, to probably numb themselves and then probably by the time they end up on the street they’re suffering pretty bad from alcoholism. But it’s not the alcohol itself that caused their becoming homeless; it’s a symptom of the causes. – Christian, a houseless resident of I.V.
Multiple community organizations host meals for the I.V. houseless residents, including the UCSB Community Affairs Board (CAB), Saint Michael’s University Church and Isla Vista Community Church, according to Clyde.
“We got a lot of people helping … on Tuesdays we have a dinner from CAB at the United Methodist church on Sueno,” Clyde said. “Wednesdays we have 5 o’clock mac and cheese which is at Acorn Park over by Bagel Café and that’s put on by the [Isla Vista Church] worship band.”
Long-term I.V. resident Cara Yoshizumi, who hosts breakfast in People’s Park in I.V. on Saturday mornings for houseless and hungry individuals, said it is important take the time to meet the needs of fellow community members.
“I wish the community in general would care for the well-being of people,” Yoshizumi said. “These people fall through the cracks and it’s important that people’s needs are met for the good of the community. I’m there to do what I can to support people. I can’t solve all the problems, but I can provide a meal — I can give moral support.”
Thirty-year I.V. houseless resident Christian said he believes many have a false perception of houseless individuals’ reasons for turning to alcohol.
“Anybody that is going through something like that [foreclosures] is probably going to go towards drinking for a bit, to probably numb themselves and then probably by the time they end up on the street they’re suffering pretty bad from alcoholism,” Christian said. “But it’s not the alcohol itself that caused their becoming homeless; it’s a symptom of the causes.”
CAB Co-Coordinator for Hunger and Homeless Outreach and third-year sociology major Edwin Hernandez said in addition to hosting multiple meals throughout the month, CAB hosts community events to educate students on the issue of houselessness.
“Last week we had a screening of a movie called “Lost Angels,” to let them know that homelessness is evident and it’s something that’s real and it’s in the streets and we need to either change it or make an effort to kind of sweep them of the streets and get them going and have them rehabilitated or give them aid if they need it,” Hernandez said.
Student-led outreach to the houseless residents in I.V. has been increasing, according to Hedges.
“There’s more student involvement now — more organized student involvement where they’re actually stepping in and volunteering,” Hedges said. “It’s time we got people taken care of right here in our own town.”
Walters said while he agrees there has been an increase in the amount of community support offered to the houseless, there is still room for students to play a significant role, and that begins with taking the time to develop meaningful conversations.
“We’re not from some alien planet,” Walter said. “The people in this community need to start taking care of the people in this community. They’re like ‘Oh, we need to end the homeless thing.’ You’re not going to end it until you come out here and start sitting down with people on the streets, talking to them, getting to know them, seeing where you can help them.”
[Correction: This article incorrectly identified Diane Winkelman as Diana Winkelbean. In addition, the “Christmas Day Massacre” was said to have taken place on Dec. 25, 2012, when the event actually occurred Dec. 25, 2011. The article has been updated accordingly.]
A version of this story appeared in the May 7, 2015 issue of the Daily Nexus.