Facing the Street

Was anyone else struck by the contrasts revealed in two articles in the January 13 Independent? On page 8 we read of the strong divisions in the City Council over money needed in aid of bad-weather warming shelters for the homeless (the $10,000 in question was narrowly approved). The same article noted that 32 homeless died here—many on the streets—in the past year.

Then, page 10 reveals that Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency is now poised to spend a much greater sum, $50,000 in fact, to rearrange the benches on the 800 and 900 blocks of State Street so that panhandlers and others who sit there won’t face passersby.

I am always amused by the arguments of those who would deny services to the homeless. Mayor Schneider rightly insisted on proof of Michael Self’s assertion that most of our homeless come from out of town. How many times have I heard people claim, as Frank Hotchkiss did, that “these are people who choose to live on the street.” Has anyone ever explained why this sudden taste for sleeping rough didn’t emerge in the U.S., and in Britain, until the Reagan-Thatcher years?

It is a commonplace to compare our times to the 1930s. But I grew up in New York City during the Great Depression, and although I knew that out in the country there were hobos and job-seekers riding the rails, I didn’t see homeless people living on the city streets. What we are seeing now is more like what occurred in Victorian England.

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