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Posted on March 20 at 8:41 a.m.
Thanks for the great article Nick!
I hear our community's frustration at the presence of so many young street people on lower State Street. Several media reports these last few days have created a massive buzz in the social media with dozens of people chiming in, usually sharing anecdotes of offensive behavior they have witnessed.
I do not doubt that there is a criminal element there that needs to be weeded out, but at the same time know that most of these street people are poor, innocent and harmless.
While "needle-infested" camps along the freeway need to be stopped, we must acknowledge an institutional context in which less than 400 shelter beds for over 1000 people creates a situation in which many good, honest and decent people are forced to sleep out doors each night.
We need someone to speak out in support of them and their rights. It feels like a "witchhunt" out there where anyone under the age of 25 with a large backpack risks being stopped and searched just for "looking homeless". And they are talking about making it a misdemeanor to park your backpack on a sidewalk!
The comparison of this issue with our supposed "gang problem" is instructive. Both are often based on hysterical "moral panics" which involve seeing our youth as crazed deviants destroying our communal fabric.
Ugly stereotypes, blatant misinformation and inappropriate labels circulate perpetuating an "us v. them" mentality. Both involve the "criminalization" of our youth, often because they are without resources.
"Vagabonds", "transients", "bums" are prejorative terms in my book.
Rather than mere arrests, we need outreach workers and the Restorative Policing teams to gather information about who really is out there and why.
Many of these young people are OUR children, our brothers and sisters. Many of these people are foster youth abused by our systems. Many of these people are victims of a bad economy, poor schools, and an inadequate safety net.
What would a compassionate approach to these issues look like? What would an approach based upon upholding these people's dignity and worth look like?
These young people are our neighbors.
On Cops Take on ‘Urban Travelers’
Posted on April 25 at 5:05 p.m.
This is an issue that is being taken up by SEAT At the Table, the new homeless advocacy group in town. (SEAT stand for Street Empowerment and Advocacy Training).
One of our members has proposed a Safe Sleeping Program, modeled after New Beginnings's Safe Parking Program.
People would need to sign up in advance, alcohol and drugs would not be permitted on site, and people would only be allowed to sleep at the site (perhaps arrive at 7 p.m. and leave by 7 a.m.). Ideally, the site would be indoors.
All human beings deserve to sleep indoors if they want to in a safe and secure environment. It could be like a warming center that is open 365 days a year.
If no spot can be found indoors, a suitable outdoor spot must be found. Porta-potties would be brought in and professionals would monitor the sites — in the same way that the Safe Parking spaces are monitored. Moreover, the clients would be offered various services, including outreach, job club, counseling groups and other supportive services.
I do not know what types of sites we could find — a parking lot, an open field, a gymnasium, etc. We desperately need to find a place. Four years ago, we did not have a warming center and we made that happen. I know we can make this happen, too. It is the right thing to do.
With the closing of the Freedom Warming Centers and the closing of the winter beds at Casa Esperanza, and now Trinity's grounds an estimated 200 beds and many more safe spaces have been taken away from the most frail and destitute people of our community — people who are now being ticketed for sleeping outside.
This has to stop! The criminalization of poverty is an injustice.
SEAT at the Table, the group that came up with this idea, is a coalition of homeless and formerly homeless people who hope to shape public policies that address the systemic causes of poverty and homelessness. They envision grassroots, consumer-driven public institutions serving the true needs of their constituents.
On Trinity Spills Over Capacity
Posted on April 19 at 8:52 a.m.
Families Act did outstanding work in organizing this news conference, and has consistently focused our community’s eyes on the needs of those who have mental health challenges, “self-medicate” with various substances and because of this loose their housing.
Elsewhere I have referred to this as the “triple challenge” of mental illness, addiction and homelessness, and some estimate that it may account for up to 25% of those who are on the street (Wayne Mellinger, Noozhawk ““Triple Challenged Can’t Grapple With Their Demons Alone” 1-14-12).
These people need integrated addiction treatment and mental health services. The County of Santa Barbara sadly lacks these services and one of the great merits of Suzanne Riordan and Families Act is that it has consistently raised awareness for the need for rehabilitation beds.
As one who has struggled with these issues myself, and knows personally what it is like to desperately need services and to not find them, I urge the people of Santa Barbara county to contact their supervisors and let them know that you support the rights of those with mental health challenges and support their access to the supportive services they need to transition into lives of self-sufficiency.
Let the leaders of Santa Barbara know that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and have access to basic human services. Let them know that you support social justice!
Wayne M. Mellinger
Community Organizer, SEAT At The Table (a new Homeless Advocacy Organization in Santa Barbara)
On Not So Merry Merry-Go-Round