In response to growing houseless encampments at Anisq’Oyo’ Park in Isla Vista, the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District is closing Anisq’Oyo’ Park where many houseless residents currently live and suggesting relocation to People’s Park or the pallet homes. All residents must relocate by Dec. 20.

IVRPD said in a statement that it is asking houseless residents to relocate their encampments from Anisq’Oyo’ Park due to violations of IVRPD’s COVID-19 Encampment Management Policy, to reduce dangerous behaviors such as overdosing and to carry out lighting and irrigation maintenance. Courtesy of IVRPD

Prior to the deadline, Good Samaritan Shelter, Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD), Isla Vista Foot Patrol and some houseless outreach groups are encouraging people to move to People’s Park earlier than Dec. 20. 

However, Food Not Bombs — an organization that provides free meals to Isla Vista residents — is speaking out against efforts to remove houseless residents, sparking community-wide protests on social media to let houseless residents remain put. The group plans to be present at Anisq’Oyo’ on Dec. 20 and 21 to support houseless residents.

IVRPD said in a statement that it is asking houseless residents to relocate their encampments from Anisq’Oyo’ Park due to violations of IVRPD’s COVID-19 Encampment Management Policy (CEMP), to reduce dangerous behaviors such as overdosing and to carry out lighting and irrigation maintenance. Houseless residents who are unable to relocate to a shelter will be allowed to move to People’s Park, which is located next to Anisq’Oyo’ Park. 

“We’re going to ensure that nobody is cited, ticketed. We’d like to ideally not have anybody be disrespected in this process,” IVRPD General Manager Kimberly Kiefer said at the Isla Vista Community Network (IVCN) Dec. 17 meeting. “We’re not taking people’s blankets, we’re not taking people’s tents. We are trying to get people to get settled into a new space that is safer and that is more supportive to their needs.” 

According to a statement from the IVRPD, IVRPD passed CEMP in August and implemented the policy for the duration of the pandemic, giving it the power to relocate and limit individuals’ acquired space at parks to ensure that “personal belongings and sleeping quarters do not exceed a reasonable footprint.” 

“Due to increased violent activity, complaints by residents and business owners, multiple near-death drug overdoses, human trafficking and other health and safety issues, areas within [Anisq’Oyo’] will be closed in order for IVRPD to abate those public health and safety issues, as well as remedy, repair and maintain park resources,” IVRPD said in a statement.

Food Not Bombs has created a petition, raised awareness through social media and asked community members to contact IVRPD members via email or through public comment at meetings to ask IVRPD to cancel its sweep of Anisq’Oyo’ Park. The group delivered the petition Friday morning, according to Gina Sawaya, an Isla Vista resident and volunteer for Food Not Bombs. 

In response to the petition, IVRPD said in a statement that “The District finds it unfortunate that some of the information being presented in the petition is not factual and has already circulated a public statement for concerned community members interested in receiving accurate information about the clean up efforts in AO and temporary emergency shelter.” 

IVRPD said that it tried previously to avoid asking residents to leave the park by increasing “garbage and debris removal, hand-washing stations and portable restrooms,” but for the safety and health of houseless residents, decided it was no longer sustainable.   

IVRPD cleared three other houseless encampments in Isla Vista on Nov. 27: Camino Corto Open Space, Sueño Orchard and Del Sol Vernal Pool Reserve. All three were declared fire hazards by the Santa Barbara County fire marshall, and houseless residents were given a few weeks to clear those three sites, according to IVRPD Director Ash Valenti. 

Hector, a houseless resident at Anisq’Oyo’ Park who only identified himself by his first name due to privacy concerns, said he experienced being dislodged first hand. 

“All [the fire marshall] had to do was tell us to clean all that stuff up,” Hector said, referencing his previous encampment at Sueño Orchard. “What they did is take away my home.”

“It’s been hell lately,” he added. “We’re supposed to shelter in place. Not fucking move.”

Many of Hector’s belongings were thrown away when encampments at Sueño Orchard were cleared, he said. 

To offset the growing occupation of Anisq’Oyo’ Park, Good Samaritan and Santa Barbara County worked to provide the community with temporary pallet housing with enough funding to suit 40 residents at the Isla Vista Community Center parking lot through June. 

Some houseless residents, however, have reservations with the new temporary housing. 

“We don’t want no pallet housing. What we want is our park back,” according to Buck, a houseless resident who identified himself only by his first name, citing privacy concerns. After spending over a decade in I.V., Buck said he’s worried that many houseless residents won’t bode well with the conditions of the pallet housing, which includes security manning the area.  

“80% of this park are tweakers. [Security is] not gonna let you go out all night long and steal shit. They’re not gonna let you build shit up outside your tiny home, bicycles and shit you stole, and shit you found. It ain’t gonna happen,” Buck said. 

Though the decision to ask houseless residents to vacate Anisq’Oyo’ Park dominated public comment at IVRPD’s Dec. 10 meeting, it was not officially on the agenda. The public was notified by an announcement posted on IVRPD’s website.

IVRPD said in a statement to the Nexus that enforcing CEMP was not on the Dec. 10 agenda because it can be enforced without a vote from the board.  

However, community members advocating against IVRPD’s decision expressed concern over perceived lack of transparency because CEMP was left off the agenda for the board meeting. 

According to Sawaya, Food Not Bombs plans on being present at Anisq’Oyo’ Park on Dec. 20 and 21 to support houseless residents as they relocate.

“There were avenues to do this collaboratively, and [IVRPD] chose not to do them,” Sawaya said. “From their perspective, it’s easier to do what they would do just through their staff … because in general, what we’ve seen is that the public and the Isla Vista community doesn’t want our houseless neighbors to be evicted from their homes.” 

During the Dec. 10 meeting, Valenti tried to facilitate a discussion on the actions taken at Anisq’Oyo’ Park but was stopped by IVPRD Board Chair Pegeen Soutar, who explained that because of the Brown Act, which states that there cannot be discussion from a governmental body at a meeting about topics that are not on the agenda. 

According to IVRPD, residents who leave Anisq’Oyo Park will be provided a “relocation assistance plan that would ensure the health and wellness of Isla Vista’s houseless community members while connecting them with essential services and resources,” including a sleeping space at either People’s Park, a motel or at the temporary shelter, handwashing stations and restrooms.  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines have instructed local agencies to leave houseless encampments put unless an alternate shelter is provided, which is technically fulfilled by the pallet homes. The pallet homes can house a maximum of 40 residents, which does not include all houseless residents in I.V.

With the final days to leave the park ahead, Valenti said they hope things remain calm. 

“[IVRPD] staff feels that calling it a sweep is not accurate, because the intention isn’t to sweep out homeless people. Whether that’s gonna be how it goes down, I don’t know,” they said. “I’m gonna be doing what I can.”

Correction [12/20/2020, 12:06 p.m.]: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Food Not Bombs planned to intervene with law enforcement at Anisq’Oyo’ Park and has been corrected to reflect the organization’s efforts to support houseless residents. 

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Atmika Iyer
Atmika Iyer is an assistant news editor. She's a lover of loud music, loud laughs, and loud prints.