The soft hum of a battery-powered golf cart carries a sense of clout on Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside, where Casa Esperanza Homeless Shelter security guard Eddie Parreguire made his daily rounds on a recent morning.
Parreguire has earned the nickname of “gentle giant,” a towering young man who for three years has cemented a relationship with the homeless population near the shelter at 816 Cacique St.
It’s his job to rouse them from slumber at business storefronts and to prevent loitering or openly abusing alcohol and other substances.
Every hour on the hour, beginning at 7:30 a.m., Parreguire used to stroll the streets between the East Beach Batting Cages on Milpas Street to the old U.S. Post Office on Carpinteria Street — a difficult task with just two feet and a whole shelter to simultaneously monitor.
That all changed a few weeks ago, when Moto Loco owner Gene Katz saw the security guard and noted that rounds could be more efficient if he were driving a golf cart.
Milpas Community Association president Alan Bleecker ran with the idea, asking the organization’s board members to pitch in $2,100 to buy one.
Within a few hours, Bleecker had the money, and shortly after, Parreguire — and Casa Esperanza — had the patrol golf cart.
Now Parreguire cruises at 8 mph, traveling on the far right side of the traffic lanes from Canon Perdido and Milpas streets down to the waterfront.
Casa Esperanza and Milpas Community Association officials have already seen a notable difference, prompting discussion of possibly replicating the collaboration in other neighborhoods steeped in calls to confront the homeless.
“I’ve actually realized that they walk away,” Parreguire said of homeless folks near the shelter. “I just cover more ground. The police don’t want to have to deal with something like this.”
A change in leadership at Casa Esperanza has helped make the donation possible, since the shelter wants to do more to uphold a “good neighbor” policy that says its guests will not leave trash or negatively affect the surrounding neighborhood.
“The fact is, it is our problem,” Kathleen Wilson, Casa Esperanza’s director of development, told Noozhawk. “It’s our community, and it’s an issue.
“With the homeless, you kind of have to build trust,” she said, noting the relationship Parreguire has already formed with area homeless responding to the cart.
Wilson said the switch Casa Esperanza made to a sobriety model a year ago has helped, along with plans to start a 100-day program for substance abusers who live in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss loves the golf cart idea, and said the city is encouraging more collaboration that doesn’t rely on city resources.
MCA board members Pedro Nava and Jarrett Gorin were happy to pool funds to buy the vehicle, leveraging resources the shelter already has.
“This is how we can contribute,” Nava said. “I think what we’re seeing now is a very dramatic change.”
MCA executive director Sharon Byrne and Bleecker are set to present the concept to other organizations that hear similar grumbling about the issue they’ve been addressing the past four years.
“Milpas has had some vexing issues,” Byrne said. “The golf cart is a big deal. What do you do when you have a population that you want to help but also want to ensure they don’t disrespect your neighborhood?”
Business owners, including Katz at Moto Loco, 736 Carpinteria St., say having the golf cart hasn’t hurt.
“The fact that they’re at least trying to make things better and more efficient is good,” he said. “It’s a little more threatening to the people.”
Back on his rounds, Parreguire, a former police explorer in the Santa Maria police program, said he’s able to check streets and parking lots, even forming relationships with businesses.
He’s also had fewer confrontations with the homeless, who know the gentle giant will soon be back around the block in his new ride.