As I sat down to write this column in Java Jones, I looked to the couches on my left. A man using a plastic garbage bag as a poncho sat there, slumped over and covered in discarded CDs and papers-he looked as though he hadn’t had a shower and a clean night’s sleep in at least a week. He roused and confusedly rubbed his face in the “what the hell is going on” kind of way, then closed his eyes to return to whatever dreamland he came from.
Homeless people aren’t an uncommon sight around Isla Vista. When I first came into the coffeehouse, I hardly even noticed that a homeless man was catching some zzz’s on the couch-the very couch where I would sit if no one was occupying the spot. I’m not grossed out when I pass by someone using the street as a semi-permanent home the way I would have before I moved here because now I see those people everywhere. The transients in Isla Vista are one of its more permanent features (how’s that for irony, Alanis?).
Some linger in the laundromat next to Isla Vista Market and Sweet Alley. Some wander from party to party, killing wounded soldiers (which are half-drunk beers, not actual military personnel). Some-scratch that, a lot-post up in Anisq’ Oyo’ park.
No discussion of the homeless issues in I.V. is complete without a mention of Pirate, the most famous homeless man in all of I.V. history. Pirate can smoke a cigarette out of his eye while shamelessly hitting on girls like nobody’s business. Why the name “Pirate”? He sports a patch over his right eye and a bandana around his head, and swaggers around the city in a way that could only be described as pirate-like.
About a year ago, he sort of disappeared from the city. Murmurs of people asking, “where is Pirate?” floated around, their voices sprinkled with concern. After all, he’s become such an idol that people notice when he’s gone; even though his normally altered state is something to be troubled about on its own, his absence is abnormal and even more worrisome. When I chatted with Lt. Brian Olmstead of the I.V. Foot Patrol (IVFP) about the general state of I.V. a few months back, Pirate naturally came up in conversation. He said the IVFP had always been concerned about Pirate’s health, and had convinced him to get some kind of help. For a while, Pirate was clean and off the streets in some sort of facility. But once he was out, the allure of I.V.-the way he could get drunk so easily, the way he was so famous from DP to Picasso, the way people loved him and called out for him-drew him back to alcoholism, and homelessness.
I left that particular conversation feeling guilty. After all, I’ve been one of those people who shouted out at Pirate to tell me a joke, who gave one of the homeless people walking along the beach one of my beers. For me, these encounters have been fleeting moments of entertainment. But for them, it’s been their lives. Forgetting the brutality of reality is the name of their game, whether it be passing out in the park or putting on a persona and dancing for cheering audiences. How selfish of me to play into that and encourage it.
The issue of homelessness is one that should be solved in I.V. Well, duh. I’ve probably never written a less controversial sentence in this column. The issue is-as is always true with public problems-that there’s no easy way to fix it. Build a homeless shelter at the bottom of the loop? Sure, but then we’ll need funding for that, and we all know how much the county loves to give us money. Plus, the cynic in me worries that a possible shelter might draw homeless people from around Santa Barbara, and California in general, to our little town. Push I.V. residents to stop paying attention and giving alcohol to the homeless people? Yeah, there are rational residents who already do these things. But, the other problem is that I.V. has its fair share of a-holes.
Despite the lack of a concrete solution, we could at least stop treating the homeless people as if they were objects and start treating them like people (which should be easy, since they are). They’re not just something to gawk and laugh at on DP. Until someone solves the homelessness problem-which I’m not holding my breath for-we could, at the very least, be compassionate