Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 10:22 pm | Fair 63º


Randy Alcorn: Bummed Out in Santa Barbara? It’s Time to Take Back Our City

Frank Hotchkiss, a Santa Barbara city councilman and mayoral candidate, has expressed piqued concern about the chronic and increasingly intolerable homeless situation here, and it’s a concern shared by many residents.

If his fellow council members have been less outspoken about the situation, it may be that, like many, they believe it is a problem beyond solution, and one that the community must just endure as an inevitable consequence of greater societal conditions.

For a small city heavily dependent on tourism, hordes of homeless haunting its main commercial district is not good. Residents know what to expect when they go downtown, but the city’s visitors are often taken aback by what they encounter in “America’s Riviera.”

While downtown, particularly along State Street, has always had its ups and downs with varying levels of vibrancy and vacancies, there is now gnawing concern that it is sliding into enduring economic decay. Retail stores are falling to online competition and not being replaced, leaving a greater burden on the cultural and entertainment sector to maintain economic vitality.

Patrons of museums, theaters and restaurants, however, are expressing disgust with the conditions downtown, and more reluctance to go there — especially after dark. The homeless horde can be a daunting gauntlet that many folks would rather not run.

Over the years, city officials have struggled to effectively address the situation. The city’s current police chief seems reluctant to confront the problem in a comprehensive manner, but prefers a case-by-case approach. That approach may avoid certain controversies, but is like trying to put out a forest fire one tree at a time — with a garden hose.

Santa Barbara has tried to address the problem by building homeless shelters — an easily foreseen tactical failure because it overlooks cause. It is like putting sugar on a kitchen counter and expecting to mitigate an ant infestation. As soon as they are built, the shelters are filled, and a long line of more homeless arrives wanting to get in.

That line never ends because — with its mild climate, exceptional beauty and compassionate citizens — Santa Barbara attracts the homeless from other places. If you were homeless, would you prefer living on the streets of Santa Barbara or of Cleveland?

With local charitable institutions such as Transition House, the community strives to take care of its own, but it can’t take in a disproportionate number of the nation’s homeless without taxing its limited resources and adversely affecting the ambience of the community — making it a less pleasant place for residents and visitors alike.

It is certainly not fair to the established residents — many of whom sacrifice much to live here — to have their libraries, parks and downtown benches commandeered by foul smelling, foul-mouthed and often mentally unstable vagrants.

What to do?

First, demand city officials confront the problem as a priority and accept that tolerating it is only going to perpetuate and exacerbate it. Next, understand the dynamics of the problem to find potential solutions.

Santa Barbara does not produce the number of homeless with which it is plagued, but because of the aforementioned hospitable conditions it has become a Mecca for mendicants and a haven for hobos. The solution, therefore, should be obvious — conditions must be made less welcoming and more hostile for invading vagrants.

Certainly, discouraging vagrants from coming here is not easy — complicated with legalities and misguided good intentions — but it must be done if our community is to maintain its singular ambience, vibrant commercial sector and public hygiene.

The problem of increasing numbers of vagrants coming into a community and the escalation of their bad behavior is similar to an infestation, and that prescribes the solution. Don’t feed them, don’t make them welcome, and, to borrow a euphemism for expulsion, “re-accommodate” them whenever they violate any law or ordinance.

The city should develop programs that discourage residents and visitors from giving money directly to the homeless. If compassion compels charity, encourage directing it to the various local charitable organizations dedicated to helping the homeless.

Those organizations should stop providing shelter and succor for homeless coming in from outside the community. That should be reserved for established residents of the community who through no fault of their own need assistance to get back on their feet.

It is intolerable that residents and visitors here are accosted daily at nearly every public venue by pushy panhandlers and mentally addled tatterdemalions reeking of alcohol and urine. Parts of town now resemble scenes from a zombie movie as disheveled derelicts menacingly lumber toward passersby, arms outstretched and demanding money.

Santa Barbara must cease being a sanctuary city for the homeless, or it will continue to be overrun by them.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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 through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • 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.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >