Friday, February 12 , 2016, 9:16 am | Fair 60º

Santa Barbara Police Talk with Downtown Merchants About Homeless Issues

Officers say stricter enforcement and programs such as Restorative Policing are making a difference on State Street

Sgt. Ed Olsen speaks to the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization on Thursday about what the Police Department is doing to address homeless-related issues in the area.
Sgt. Ed Olsen speaks to the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization on Thursday about what the Police Department is doing to address homeless-related issues in the area.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Merchants in downtown Santa Barbara on Thursday heard police officials share what they’re doing to address panhandling, homelessness and other hot-button issues that pop up throughout the State Street corridor.

The Downtown Organization hosted a town hall meeting at the Santa Barbara Library, andthree of four beat coordinators of the department’s recently revived program were present, including Officer Kasi Beutel.

State Street sits squarely within Beutel’s beat, and she has been working to crack down on everything from unruly dogs to skateboarding on streets and sidewalks. Skateboarding is prohibited on State Street from Sola Street to the beach, and violations carry a hefty $155 fine, which Beutel has been handing out assiduously.

Officer Keld Hove was also on hand, and spoke about the work he’s been doing with Santa Barbara’s homeless. Hove spearheads the Restorative Policing program, and is an amalgam of police officer, social worker and cheerleader for those looking to move off the streets.

Hove said that while Santa Barbara is a draw for the homeless because of weather and services, he’s heard people in multiple cities across the state say the homeless are drawn to their locales, too.

“It’s a common belief, and I believe these individuals are drifters,” he said.

A Restorative Court program was started a year ago to deal with the constant stream of homeless offenders, usually the same dozen or so people, who come in with minor offenses such as open alcohol container and urinating in public.

The restorative court dismisses those charges if the person doesn’t reoffend for six months.

“When you have someone who cannot change their behavior, it doesn’t matter how much the stick starts whacking them,” he said. “They need a carrot.”

Since the start of the program, they’ve seen 107 people, including 27 deemed vulnerable by the Common Ground vulnerability index. Hove said that 22 people chose to clean up and reunited with family, 50 were placed in programs such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and 14 were housed.

Twenty-six opted out of the program and chose to go back to the streets, but Hove said the placements they were able to make have taken a tremendous burden off the court system.

Sgt. Ed Olsen also spoke, and said that the beat coordinators, including Beutel, are “experts of the neighborhood.”

“If you have a problem that is occurring, call 911,” he said. “If there’s a chronic problem call your beat coordinator.”

Questions were also taken, and several concerns were expressed from Lower State Street hotel employees who say they’ve had to endure more than their fair share of noise from neighboring bars. Olsen said that the department’s Nightlife Enforcement Team continues to work to crack down on offenders in the Lower State area. One woman asked why there are only two officers who work that beat now, as opposed to the four there used to be. 

Olsen said that two officers were being funded with a grant that expired, so now two remain. Those positions could be staff, but resources would be pulled away from efforts such as those of the beat coordinators.

“We have to look at where we’re getting the most bang for our buck,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 06.01.12 @ 02:20 AM

I can only say you thank the liberal Democrats for this mess, and have you notice the huge suge of illegal aliens and their thousands of anchor babies crowding our schools.

Vote them out every chance you get!!

» on 06.02.12 @ 03:36 PM

Hey, Overtaxed…it was a conservative republican who signed the bill into law that closed almost all the state mental hospitals. Where do you think all these people came from?

Conservatives screwing us over again.

» on 06.03.12 @ 03:07 PM

FROM: Wiki answers:  Did Reagan force mentally ill out on the streets?

Governors, like presidents, don’t control budgets. They can merely sign them into law or veto them.

The legislature controls purse-strings, not only at the federal level, but at the state level as well.

The real culprit was the “patients’ rights” movement of the 1960s, in which the ACLU among others said that mentally ill persons should NOT be institutionalized against their will. It’s a very nice sentiment and well intended and on part, I agree with them.

However, like all paths leading to hell, it’s paved with these good intentions, and often the unintended consequences are worse than the original “problem.”

Further enabling the situation was the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 (CMHA), signed into law by President Kennedy. The law provided federal funding to establish a network of “locally based” community mental health facilities. The idea was that this was to be a local alternative to institutionalization.

In fact, it led to massive deinstitutionalization. The law did not require formerly institutionalized patients to be institutionalized at the local level.

As a result, many people left the state mental hospitals as “free men” and just began roaming the streets. Most did not get treatment locally. ...meaning they did not get their meds.

The timing of all of this is interesting because the subsequent massive deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill over the next 15 years or so coincides with the massive increase in homelessness over the same period.

The Wikipedia entry is a pretty decent summation of the events.

So to summarize, no, the eeeeeevil Ronald Reagan didn’t shove the mentally ill out on the street. You can thank well-intentioned do-gooders for that.

Read more:

» on 06.04.12 @ 12:46 PM

Many other tourist oriented cities do not have a homeless person problem in their core areas. Carmel and San Antonio come to mind. In both locations I asked local police and merchants why they didn’t have transients in the area and was told it was because their city policy was to not allow loitering and pan-handling.

» on 06.04.12 @ 02:01 PM

Drive to the coastal cities of Pismo, Oxnard and Ventura and you are greeted with No street RV Parking signs. Works for them. Why not here? Solvang is pan-handler free.

SB can learn by the good examples elsewhere. But then other cities don’t openly sell dope either like SB has allowed. No wonder SB is a magnet for the state’s floating lowlife. City council, are you listening? Time for change. We want our town back.

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