Friday, May 25 , 2018, 2:44 am | Mostly Cloudy 57º

 
 
 
 

Letter to the Editor: Taking Effective Action in Response to State Street Transients

The word transient makes me upset. Serving on the streets for many years, I need to clarify the situation being discussed by uninformed elected officials and others.

There are houseless individuals in Santa Barbara and have been since World War I. I call them urban nomads. We will always have them. It started due to wars and its effects. Many I have served on the streets are still there from the wars they fought on our behalf — both men and women.

Then there are “transients,” who are the “travelers or gypsy wanderers” in route to other places who stop off in our city.

Like anyone else, they are drawn here to see Santa Barbara — the beaches and beauty as they journey on to San Francisco or other areas. The difference with these “travelers” is they are young, often steal, cause problems for our community of urban nomads and do not know our laws — like all toilets are closed at early hours, no sleeping allowed in public at night, no illegal camping, no open containers, you can “fly a sign” to panhandle but you cannot speak unless spoken to, etc. They play music, panhandle to get to their next city and are often a bit rowdy.

This, I believe, comes from no affordable colleges or trade schools and no guidance. Many I have met are nice kids searching, like hippies did and still do. But some often want to get loaded and take no responsibility for their actions.

Ticketing our nomads and the wanderers is not an answer. Our jails are full of North County gang members, so there is no room to incarcerate them. They are forced into community service hours. Kicking them out of town will not resolve anything. Over 70 percent of the nomads on the streets are from Santa Barbara — many born and raised here.

My team and I found an answer. After serving on the streets for many years, we listened, we heard, we learned. In a city that has little to no entry jobs and few jobs to fund any sort of local housing at the exorbitant rates we all pay, it felt hopeless. So we withdrew to brainstorm and find solutions that were sustainable where showers, shaving and attire were not issues and where storage of personal items could be accommodated.

We studied cities in Europe. We brought in guest speakers from Seattle and other California cities that have helped lessen or resolve their homeless and panhandling issues. We made it free to all of Santa Barbara to attend. Over 300 residents and police staff attended to learn about these amazing solutions that other cities have accomplished. We then offered our work ideas in several forums in area parks to urban nomads. They chose to do voluntary graffiti removal work. One solution has been found!

We are now launching a Bicycle Graffiti Work Project. The project is a voluntary brigade that is trained to remove graffiti and clean adopted areas. It provides education, safety training, encouragement, responsibility and work ethic, and provides urban nomads with incentive through classes and a stipend of vouchers that include cell phone minutes, food debit cards, gas cards, bus tokens and community service hours. The work teams go out in four-hour segments.

Encouragement through weekly meetings enables us to assist nomads with resumes and job searches and provide letters of reference. We know we will see the development of team captains and leaders — group that will be consistently giving back to our city. Additionally, we intend to open a trade school in upholstery and a wood crafting training center, both teaching skills that can aid in finding assured future jobs. With the ongoing class attendance, we know this will help to heal the many issues nomads face each day as well as young adults who cannot afford to attend college. There is little option for them other than joining the military. The downward spiral will end replaced with hope.

Travelers can serve community hours with us instead of panhandling.

Instead of just looking at the growing numbers of “transient panhandlers” downtown as an issue for police, we choose to find sustainable solutions and ask the community to help support our efforts. We see this as a win-win opportunity for our growing community of people in poverty. Watch for our bright yellow bikes and vests as we go to and from our cleanup sites. This is only the beginning of our efforts. We are Worth Street Reach.

Deborah Barnes
Santa Barbara

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