For Nancy Kapp, homelessness is a test as well as an opportunity.
How Santa Barbara treats its homeless is a litmus test of what humanity the city can claim, she says. The opportunity comes when people realize that dealing with the homeless would clear up many of the city’s major issues.
That’s the platform for her City Council run as she joins Cathy Murillo and Deborah Schwartz, the two other declared candidates vying for a seat this fall.
Kapp says business on State Street would improve if people with mental illness are given the help they need. The costs to courts would be reduced if the homeless aren’t ticketed with citations they can’t pay anyway. These are all part of what Kapp calls “a tree with many branches.” Deal with homelessness, and many city issues will follow.
The 52-year-old candidate is a coordinator for the Safe Parking Program, where she has worked to house 17 homeless people this year.
“I see so many injustices when it comes to homelessness,” she said.
It’s an issue Kapp herself is intimately familiar with. She was homeless for four years when she moved to Santa Barbara with her 4-year-old daughter in 1987.
“I wasn’t going to be homeless,” she said. “I knew we had to get out of that.”
Kapp devoted her life to volunteering, sometimes 50 hours a week for local nonprofits such as the Unity Shoppe and Salvation Army. When a friend offered to rent a place to the pair, it gave Kapp a chance to breathe and think about getting her life together.
“I think he saw that we were really trying,” she said.
After moving in, Kapp put herself through school at Cal Poly and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She said she never thought she would go to college but that she thrived when she did. Before working for Safe Parking, Kapp worked for three years with the mentally disabled at PathPoint.
Kapp recently talked with a neighborhood committee in Venice mulling the idea of starting a Safe Parking Program in the area.
“The animosity in the room was overwhelming,” she said, adding that residents were arguing about one parking lot that would be used to start a program. But Kapp says Santa Barbara is different. She cites the recent effort by Common Ground Santa Barbara, through which more than 500 volunteers countywide surveyed the homeless to better prioritize them for housing.
“When I saw that, I knew there was hope for Santa Barbara,” she said.
Kapp acknowledges that many of the homeless are addicted to drugs and alcohol and lack the will to change, “but there are many that want jobs.”
She said she would like a bigger police presence to help with the issue. Instead of having one officer who works with the homeless, she would like to see four officers patrolling, with two on bikes. Those officers would pay special attention to Milpas Street and Cabrillo Boulevard.
Kapp said she doesn’t believe that more housing for the homeless has to involve building more. Using the area’s current housing stock and working to get more landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers would be one way to solve the problem.
When she realized she needed to run for City Council, “it felt like a bell went off.” Though she recognizes that her work with Safe Parking is a benefit to the city, Kapp said she feels called to do more, and a council seat would help her get there.
“My purpose in this world is to help people,” she said. “I’m here to serve this city.”