<strong>HELPING HAND:</strong>  After 35 years as a homeless outreach worker, Ken Williams, seen here helping a homeless man named Paul put on a coat, is calling it quits to concentrate on his writing.

Paul Wellman (file)

HELPING HAND: After 35 years as a homeless outreach worker, Ken Williams, seen here helping a homeless man named Paul put on a coat, is calling it quits to concentrate on his writing.

Longtime Homeless Advocate Retires

Ken Williams Abruptly Leaves His Post

Thursday, March 29, 2012
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Ken Williams, the County of Santa Barbara’s high-profile homeless outreach worker — not to mention outspoken homeless-rights advocate — suddenly and mysteriously retired two weeks ago after 35 years on the job, leaving no one to fill his shoes or take over his caseload. “He announced one day that he was gone,” said his boss Kathy Gallagher, the county’s Department of Social Services director. “We’re still trying to figure out who to handle the job, but it’s our intention to fill his position.”

Williams, who just celebrated his 62nd birthday, explained he’d felt increasingly “smothered” by the county bureaucracy and that he wanted to focus on his writing. A prolific writer, Williams has two published novels and seven others waiting to be published as well as eight screenplays. “I just really love writing,” he said. “I’m hoping to connect with a wider audience.”

Within the county’s social services bureaucracy, Williams was always a lone ranger chafed by protocol and speaking critically, more than occasionally, of his department on behalf of the homeless population. To the extent he rubbed superiors the wrong way, Williams was tolerated because he had politically powerful supporters and because his job saved the county money; it was Williams’s function to get homeless people off county relief rolls and onto federal assistance.

Ken Williams
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

Ken Williams

In recent years, Williams grew more outspoken. In a Los Angeles Times article last year, Williams was quoted skewering plans — since abandoned by City Hall — to spend $50,000 to rearrange the benches on State Street so that homeless bench-surfers would not annoy passersby. In regular columns published by Noozhawk, Williams has insisted that Gloria Gerlach, the homeless woman who died in a suspicious fire last year, was killed, and he criticized city police for not doing enough to investigate her death. Williams has insisted he’s made such remarks on his own time and that he need not get approval from departmental superiors.

Outside his department, the activist community surrounding homelessness has grown vastly more complex, competitive, and insistent upon measurable results. Three mega-umbrella organizations dealing with the homeless are now in the process of merging: Bring Our Community Home, Common Ground Santa Barbara, and the South Coast Homeless Advisory Committee. Commenting how he’d recently seen a flow chart of how the new entity would function, Williams said, “You can show me all the flow charts you want, but until you deal with the growing prejudice against the poor, it won’t do a thing.”

Williams, who’s worked in a field notorious for occupational burnout, said that the biggest change he’s witnesses since first working with the homeless is fear. “The fear isn’t just that there are more poor people,” he said. “It’s increasingly that ‘I may join those ranks.’”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

How much do you want to bet his comment on the bureaucracy can be directly tied into the current management style of the current Board of Supervisors. Ever since the Board went back to the old days of Supervisors having direct hiring and firing of senior staff in all departments, they have gotten involved in day to day operations, frustrating field staff, and demolishing morale of the front line folks who until recently, didn't have to deal with the politics of their jobs. Ken, while outspoken was sure to be getting pressure from Kathy to keep his mouth shut. This, in turn was probably coming from Salud and Janet to pressure Kathy into reigning Ken in. We lost a solid advocate and community voice yet again thanks to Janet, Salud, Doreen empire.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 8:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My guess is Ken was fine when the Board fired Mike Brown.

LC (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 9:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken was there LONG before Mike was CEO. About 8 months before their fired Mike Brown, they changed the policy where those department heads that hang out with Elected (i.e. Scott McGolpin and Tom Fayram from Public Works who fish with Salud at, do they pay entry fees??) probably get cut more slack than Kathy and her staff.

$64,000 question. Is the County better off now fiscally or when Mike Brown was in charge? Did Mike and his staff warn the BOS of the impending budget crash BEFORE it happened? Answers, No and Yes, for 2 years prior the Board was told in public forums this was coming and chose to ignore the advice and continue to burn through reserves.

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 11:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks Ken for your years of service!
You have done a grand job! Its too bad that were losing such a great person!

margodoo (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 11:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

A huge loss for those whose voice he was and we can only hope those who follow him in the position will have just a little of the passion and compassion he brought to those he helped.

Thank You Ken Williams, and best wishes on the next phase of your journey, you have earned it.

pointssouth (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 11:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

A big loss.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 3:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

All the Best in your future Ken. And thanks for your hard work

BeachFan (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 3:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

eof Bard Maybe Ken will do more good writing for a broader audience. He is quite aloof from the local political batlegrounds where his voice would carry some weight, so maybe if his successor is someone who feels that they can be more outspoken.

‎"Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage." —Adrienne Rich

Personally, I think some changing of the guard might open up some innovation. I notice that the status quo "advocates" are oblivious to the health risks that are caused by serving homeless people heavily salted, high-fat foods and cramming them into crowded pens (warming centers, shelters, jails,PFPs, etc). There is a new swine flu threat emerging in Asia which, if it developes could bring a disastrous 2012-2013 flu epidemic. I hope people will help me develope substantially modeling on

Ken was well accepted and could present a persuasive argument but for those of us who must combat incessant attempts to silence our voices, more confrontational approaches are the only ones which are paid attention to. But with "Teach Cough Hygiene Everywhere" I might be able to adopt a more "Williams-like", irenic approach to advocacy, perhaps getting some traction with the entrenched status quo of "concerned" citizens who, to date, prefer to stanch any independent advocacy.

If you prefer to prevent rather than treat disease amongst the homeless, friend me at

Geof_Bard (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 6:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wow. Pretty unprofessional to just up and leave with no one standing by to pick up your caseload. What about all the clients you left hanging? You are staying true to form, it seems. The only people who support you are the ones who don't know any better. I've never heard a real professional have anything good to say about you...unless they were complimenting your ability to run off at the mouth and self-promote.

And paying a vanity press to put out your book isn't being "published".

realitycheck447 (anonymous profile)
March 29, 2012 at 8:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I can't think of anyone to fill Ken's shoes. You have to be big, a man, brave, sensitive, caring, smart, and know where all the hiding places are for the homeless. Brave enough to stand up to everyone who tries to shut you up, brave enough to approach a raving, confused, delusional stranger in the bushes, brave enough to bring your story to groups of prominent and wealthy citizens and ask for financial help. You have to listen to the needs of the barely articulate, respond with a pat on the shoulder and a caring face. You have to be loyal to your clients and not forget them, even when they die of cold or preventable illness. I walked with Ken one day and was deeply impressed by his link to our county's lost, the way they responded to him with love and a smile, and welcomed him into their space wherever it was. He was their friend. He was their advocate, yes, for medical help, money, a kind word, but most importantly, he was a friend to the friendless. Who can fill these big shoes?

shelleyeight (anonymous profile)
March 30, 2012 at 7:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, but...what did he actually DO???

realitycheck447 (anonymous profile)
March 31, 2012 at 4:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gloria Gerlach.....

Byrd (anonymous profile)
August 5, 2013 at 6:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

well I tell you what He done , was line his pockets with $$$ on the ACCOUNT of people being POOR ......Anyone Can tell you to ( have a GOOD Day ) pat you on the back *then leave*

lovebrucez1 (anonymous profile)
April 28, 2015 at 11:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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