Ed Mannon, a 30-year resident of Santa Barbara’s streets and once a mainstay of the homeless rights community, died last Monday after crashing on his bike in “a freak, random accident,” said his attorney Robert Landheer. Mannon had bought the bike just hours before the crash and never woke up from his injuries. Had he lived, he would have turned 63 this week.
In person, Mannon was frequently loud, blustery, and relentlessly profane, carpet-bombing his conversations with multiple F-bombs. But lurking behind Mannon’s ever obstreperous and always outspoken façade was an acute intelligence and perceptive student of the political scene. While Mannon’s closest friends conceded he was often a nuisance, they saw him more as a fiercely independent soul whose spirit could not be confined by standard guidelines. “He was honest, loyal, and protective,” said Nancy McCradie, a longtime homeless advocate who met Mannon when she first hit the streets in 1980. “And that’s kind of rare.”
When homeless activism really took off in Santa Barbara during the mid-1980s, Mannon was at its epicenter. He was a fixture at the Legal Defense Center, which led the charge to secure for homeless people the right to register to vote even though they had no “fixed domicile,” as election law then required.
For many years, Mannon was a regular speaker at City Council meetings, inveighing against the campaign of harassment he charged the police were waging against the homeless. He had a keen eye for injustice, said Landheer, and was never one to look silently the other way. Mannon frequently hung out at the Moreton Bay Fig Tree by the railroad depot. When police were about to arrest or cite his friends, Mannon reportedly would unleash his pit bull, Spot, as a distraction.
Police returned the favor by “arresting” Spot for biting two men who Mannon insisted had tried to steal his radio. Spot faced being euthanized because he had bitten before, but several prominent attorneys came to the dog’s defense. The case became a cover story for the Wall Street Journal and garnered considerable national coverage, none of it to the city’s advantage. Ultimately Spot got a reprieve.
Mannon and his dogs again became the subject of media attention when one dog — Sarah — bit Brian Barnwell, then a city councilmember. Barnwell had been patrolling Eastside homeless camps, among them Mannon’s, with a local developer. Accounts vary, but at some point, Sarah, who had puppies, rushed Barnwell, and Barnwell kicked at Sarah. The councilmember wound up with several bites in the exchange of legs and teeth, not to mention wounded pride. Mannon sustained several blows by Barnwell, then wielding a folding chair, while trying to get his dogs under control. The camp would be razed.
Mannon was a child of privilege, his father a successful corporate attorney near Orinda, California. The oldest of six, Mannon was bedeviled by significant mental-health and behavioral challenges from an early age. Whatever Mannon’s diagnosis, McCradie said her friend — nicknamed “Crazy Ed” on the streets — experienced lifelong difficulties controlling his adrenaline. In hopes of getting treatment, his parents sent him to the Devereux school. After that, he would go back north to visit his family, but Santa Barbara became his home.
McCradie remembers Mannon as a talented musician who could play saxophone and clarinet. He took to hanging out at Folk Mote Music, soaking up everything he could learn about traditional Irish music. He took up guitar, though with his beat-up, weatherworn fingers, the instrument posed challenges. He enrolled in guitar classes at Adult Education, only to be told he needed to clean up to attend. Mannon did just that, even getting dentures.
Mannon, however, did not stay well scrubbed for long, squatting with friends and sleeping under bleachers by the zoo, on abandoned front porches, or in well-concealed encampments. He did not drink much, but he smoked copious quantities of marijuana. Along the way, he received many citations. In the 1980s, Mannon and attorney Landheer challenged the city’s illegal camping ordinance, availing themselves of the “necessity defense.” As long as the city’s shelters were full, they argued, and there was no place else for Mannon to go, City Hall could not legally ticket him for illegal camping. The trial jury in two Mannon cases wound up finding in his favor on one count and against him on the other. Regardless of the verdicts, Mannon remained uncompromisingly defiant of such rules to the very end.
Life on the streets is notoriously rough. At various times, Mannon packed a handgun, carried a 14-inch knife, or kept the company of loyal watchdogs. McCradie remembered Mannon once led about 30 street people armed with sticks to the home of a drug dealer, demanding that he return a camera he’d acquired from an addict who’d stolen it for drugs. The camera was returned without incident. For all his toughness and bluster, Mannon appears to have been stalked and beaten by a street person with whom he’d had a bad falling out. He once was beaten so badly an eyeball had to be stitched back into its socket. Mannon would not divulge the name of his assailant to the police and expressly forbade anyone else from doing so.
About three years ago, Mannon let it be known to Sharon Byrne of the Milpas Community Association that he wanted to come in from the cold. That the two were on speaking terms is remarkable. Byrne had led the effort to run homeless people like Mannon off the Cabrillo ball field, a popular roosting spot. To the extent they spoke, it was when Mannon yelled at Byrne from across the street. By coincidence, the two adversaries share a birthday, and three years ago, Byrne made a point to give Mannon a piece of the cake her daughter had made. As the two talked, they discovered they shared similar personality traits — they were both headstrong, stubborn, and outspoken. Both were critical of how the Casa Esperanza shelter was run. While Mannon was a firebrand for the politics of homelessness, overall he was pretty conservative. Byrne said he described himself as a “radical conservative.” McCradie described him as “a Republican from way back,” adding, “Come on, he’s a millionaire homeless person.”
Thanks to the intervention of Santa Barbara Police Officer Keld Hove, Mannon got a room in the New Faulding Hotel. “He loved it,” Byrne said. “He liked having a warm room and a warm bed.” About that time, Mannon intervened aggressively when two elderly tourists were being harassed by a young urban traveler on State Street. Whether Mannon “beat the crap” out of the young man as he claimed is not clear. But he kept the man from leaving until police arrived. For this, he was nominated for a medal of commendation by some of the same officers with whom he’d feuded over the years.
Ultimately, Mannon left the Faulding. He wanted to smoke pot in his room, and house rules forbade it. In the meantime, the unlikely friendship between Mannon and Byrne deepened. He was a frequent — and mostly unannounced — visitor at Byrne’s downtown home. Byrne’s daughter liked Mannon. Byrne’s dog positively loved him. “He was like the crazy uncle we adopted. Yes, he’s eccentric and irritating at times, but I love him,” Byrne said. “I know that if I ever needed anything, Ed would have killed himself trying to make that happen.”
From: “Burleigh, Craig”
To: “Olsen, Ed”, “Hove, Keld”
Subject: Ed Mannon
Date: Thu, Feb 9, 2012 20:41
To Srgt. Olsen: February 2012 New client placement for Santa Barbara Restorative Policing Unit.
Update, Srgt. Olsen your contacts, meeting and conversations with Sharon Byrne, Executive Director of Milpas Community Association. This is a follow-up to possible placement with Ed Mannon into housing.
History of client (Ed. Mannon) Source: Homeless in Santa Barbara, author Isabelle Walker. A nine page article titled “A history of Homelessness in Santa Barbara.”www.homelessinsb.orghttp://www.homelessinsb.org Quote “But Ed Mannon, a mainstay of the homeless community here for 20 years…” back on February 1, 1982.
Miss. Byrne contacted Srgt. Olsen for possible assistance with Mr. Mannon in exploring the possibility of getting him some type of housing/shelter. Approximately two weeks ago I approached Mr. Mannon sleeping under the Fig tree by the train station, early in the morning. I spoke with him and we spent time talking about different types of housing that would be suitable for Mr. Mannon. We also visited these locations throughout Santa Barbara together.
Last week I spoke with Emmet Hawkes, Executive Director of Santa Barbara Community Housing Corporation, Faulding Hotel and discussed our client. A brief synopsis of Mr. Mannon was given to Mr. Hawkes: and I found out from Mr. Mannon that he has been living on our streets, bushes, parks, beaches, and railway tracks for 31 years in Santa Barbara.
With the assistance of Lorena Alvarado, Administrative Assistance and client intake of the Faulding Hotel an application was filled out by us (Miss. Byrne’s a good friend of Mr. Mannon) and submitted for review.
A few days ago, we got wonderful news that Mr. Mannon was eligible and accepted to the New Faulding Hotel at 11, East Haley Street. His first permanent room in over 31 years of homelessness would be ready sometime MID-February, 2012.
Yesterday, Weds. 02/08/2012 I received a call from Lorena of the Faulding that Mr. Mannon’s room was available early; and his carpets had been washed and a fresh coat of paint was completed for his room. Mr. Mannon was welcome to move in early today, 02/09/2012. I made arrangements with Miss. Byrne’s to get Mr. Mannon ready to move indoors and secure his financial matters.
MOVE IN DAY ! I discovered today, 02/09/2012 was Miss. Byrne’s birthday. I also discovered that it is Ed Mannon’s 60th Birthday, today. What are the odds on that ? also that the room was available today on both their birthdays! Arrangements were made that myself and my Restorative policing civilian partner Mureen Brown would meet Mr. Mannon and Miss. Byrnes. After getting Mr. Mannon some personal items, a trip to our great friends at catholic charities for clothing we met with Lorena Alvarado at the Faulding Hotel.
Mr. Mannon completed the interview and passed; and was given the keys to his new room. Please see attached photographs.
Mr. Mannon’s history with the Santa Barbara Police department, since Feb. 02. 1984 (There may be prior history to 1984 ?) 235 charges, which is citations and/or arrests.
So today, on 02/09/2012 and on Mr. Mannons 60th Birthday, Ed Mannon is the newest guest of the Faulding Hotel and no longer HOMELESS after 31 years (per Ed Mannon) on the streets of Santa Barbara.
I would like to thank Srgt. Olsen working closely with Miss. Byrne and Miss. Byrne for being there for Ed. Mannon over all these years. All the staff at the Faulding Hotel that help us with our clients at the Faulding Hotel. Robert front desk, Emmet Hawkes and Lorena Alvarado. Miss. Alvarado as the patience of a Saint, especially with Ed. Mannon; and Mureen Brown my partner today with the Restorative policing unit.
Restorative Policing Officer Craig Burleigh.
* * *
Two Poems for Ed Mannon
by Peter Marin
of the game
is freedom — only that.
As old as America, older, as old
as the tribes, older, as old
as the first men and women
and, before that, the creatures of the forest,
the field, the sky and the deep.
as old as the first
stirring of life, the cells
in their motion, the bits, the pieces
of which we are made, named
Man, Woman or, yes, Ed
in his shambling gait
down the street, his voice
raised in anger, his
fury at injustice which was
the fury of life to be left alone,
to be itself, to become
what it will, reduced as it is
to alleys, doorways, hobo
jungles or hidden by fig-tree
branches where, yes, it can,
even injured, survive.
Nations have their statues
of liberty, their arches
of triumph, the living
have men, women, comrades
like Ed who struggle for
the freedoms we prize
or forget — no matter. Ed
remembered for us. Now we
remember Ed, saying
these words: Ed. Freedom.
Again: Freedom, Ed.
close to the edge.
a wind on one’s face, the sounds
of these, no wires
no roads, only
the world as it is, pressed
close, flesh to flesh,
and the stretch
of one’s life. no shadow
in the raw blaze of
the light as it comes
as if from the hand of a god.
Ed was there. where we
are without knowing,
alone where he stood
at the center of Being
in the life he kept for his own.