Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 9:11 pm | Fair 48º


Randy Alcorn: Santa Barbara’s Homeless Industry Perpetuating the Problem

It's past time for our community to balance humanitarianism with reality

In the 40 years that I have resided in Santa Barbara the issue of excessive vagrancy has endured, unrelenting and unresolved. It is not only as vexing a problem today as it was in 1972, but it has grown worse. All the attempted solutions — the new shelters, the community generosity, the multitude of tax- and charity-supported agencies and institutions — have not abated the problem.

Neither Santa Barbara nor the nation will ever eradicate homelessness. President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was as hopelessly idealistic as President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs. Such crusades are doomed to fail because they cannot overcome human nature and the ultimate realities of economics. Yet, such crusades continue with all the unintended negative consequences that wreak collateral damage on society.

Santa Barbara, along with so many other idyllic West Coast communities, is being overrun by hordes of invading indigents attracted by the climate, the squishy liberality that tolerates their presence, and the generous support structure dedicated to providing for them.

The humanitarian sentiments of these communities have backfired on them. Their parks have become encampments for flocks of slumbering inebriates; their libraries and public benches, lounges for foul-smelling tatterdemalions; their shrubbery, open latrines; and their downtown streets, gauntlets of panhandlers. The collateral damage from unconditional charity and tolerance is suffered by everyone who wants to simply live in quiet, sanitary, unharassed, enjoyment of their community, and especially by anyone who owns a brick-and-mortar business dependent on customer traffic.

A man who owns such a business on Milpas Street told me that each morning, before customers arrive, he must roust out a roost of vagrants from his property, and hose down the area to deodorize as best he can the acrid smell of human waste. He told me of his embarrassment whenever customers notice the lingering stench and the vagrants loitering nearby, sometimes openly urinating. He was nearly in tears recounting his frustration with city officials and police who essentially shrug and do nothing.

Recently, a local advocate for the homeless said that, “what happens to one sector of our community affects what happens to everyone else.” Indeed it does. Just ask the guy who owns that shop on Milpas Street, or anyone trying to go about their business in and around the infestation of indigents in this town.

So, how does a community balance its humanitarianism with its own comfort? First, understand that no community, especially those as attractive as Santa Barbara, can ever accommodate all the homeless who will want to come there. Build another shelter and it will be filled while more homeless wait in line. Feed a hundred homeless and there will be another hungry hundred arriving. Unless Santa Barbara or any community is prepared to feed and shelter all the estimated 600,000 homeless in this nation, it has to establish reasonable limits on its charity and tolerance.

You don’t do that by implicit invitation to the greater homeless population. There are forces within Santa Barbara that have effectively created a homeless industry here that measures its success not by eliminating homelessness, which will never be done, but by how many people need its services. Rather than ease the problem, this industry exacerbates it by attracting the homeless here. This does, however, ensure steady employment for those in the industry.

The other forces implicitly sending out invitations to the homeless are the church groups that believe it is their duty to aid all comers. Nice folks these, but unless they can miraculously feed multitudes with two fish and a couple loaves of bread their charity is not boundless. They are not solving the problem here; rather they are perpetuating it — as is anyone who gives money to panhandlers.

What is reasonable for any community is to take care of its own, and not import indigents to take care of. I would define “its own” as folks who have been housed, self-sufficient, residents of the community for at least a year, and who have, through no fault of their own, fallen on hard times and need help getting on their feet.

There are ordinances that a city can pass to discourage the influx of indigents. The City of Arcata, on California’s North Coast, has passed a number of these ordinances and has hired special police officers dedicated to enforcing them. Arcata is gradually reclaiming its community from the homeless. Santa Barbara needs to face reality and do the same.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read previous columns.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.