Helter Shelter

If there’s anything that I’ve managed to express over and over
again in my column, it’s that I hate paying rent. Well, that and my
uncontrollable love for all things I.V. But still, nothing hurts a
Jewish girl raised with stereotypical penny-pinching values more
than having to overpay for the use of half a tiny bedroom that may
or may not be occupied by my voracious — to put it mildly —
roommate and her boyfriend at any given time. Don’t get me wrong, I
love living in Isla Vista, I love living with my roommates, and I
love living in a house with a big backyard. But I hate that in
order to have those things, I’m required to fork over an amount
that Craigslist says could get me a furnished one-bedroom
apartment in Athens, an apartment on the beach in Tel Aviv, or a
cute little house in Vegas all to myself — no romantically
entangled, literally, roommate required. And that doesn’t even
begin to cover the fact that my bathtub has been leaking for
months, my kitchen is still lacking a system to keep the smoke
alarms from going off every time we cook, and our blinds break
every time we try to open or shut them. In the long run I love my
house and I am living here again next year — paycheck willing — but
I know that in the real world, the real estate I currently occupy
would not really be managed like it is.

It’s a commonly accepted fact that finding affordable housing in
Santa Barbara is rough, not to mention the added complications of
securing such housing on the mean streets of I.V. If you think it’s
hard to find a cheap place to live in S.B. proper, try tracking one
down in a town where the landlords are savvy, the regulations are
rarely enforced unless it’s in the best interests of the county,
and the local government is ineffective if not nonexistent. We have
the Isla Vista
Recreation and Park District
(IVRPD), but can we really expect
a governing body whose main concern is the local parks, to be able
to regulate a group of property owners who have more money and
clout than most members of the IVRPD board will hold during their
entire terms in office combined? We have amazing organizations like
the Isla Vista Tenants Union on our side, but tent-city
demonstrations aside, when it comes down to it we students still
have to pay our rent every month if we expect to have a roof over
our heads, a fridge in which to keep our beer, and a place to bring
booty calls back to, whether it’s overpriced or
not.

As people begin knocking on my door to find out whether my house
will be available for rent next year — and for the record, I’m not
moving and, even if I were, when you pound on the door early
Saturday morning I’m going to tell you to get lost regardless — I
find myself considering homeless1%5B1%5D.jpg the question of cribs. We in I.V. spend a lot of time complaining about our living situations. If it’s not
the supersized rent, it’s the subpar landlord. If it’s not the
insane roommate, it’s the impacted parking. It’s as easy to harp on
a bad housing situation as it is to extoll the virtues of living in
I.V. But, therein lies the rub. While bad landlords and big rent
checks give I.V. residents every right to complain — at least a
little bit — the fact of the matter is that we’re still living in
beautiful Isla Vista, California.

No matter how much our cribs cost, we still have a roof over our
heads at night and a place to come in from the cold. And, as Mother
Nature single-handedly defines what cold means in California, that
gives us a lot to be thankful for. When I close at work, I’m
walking home between 12 and 1 a.m. When I open at work, I’m heading
in between 6:30 and 8 a.m. Unlike most people, I see I.V. early in
the morning and late at night and I’m totally sober during both
extremes. And if there’s one thing that I’m always struck by it’s
the abundance of people without abodes to go home to. Pirate, the
Animal Vegetable Mineral Guy, the group of women in Anisq’Oyo’ Park
— I.V. is full of people without a warm place to spend the cold
winter nights. We can complain all we want about the cost of our
crappy housing, but at least we have houses to come home to at
night, or hide in during the early morning fog. That’s more than a
lot of people can say.

It’s really easy to see the local homeless population as
caricatures — we’re amused by Pirate, annoyed by the Animal
Vegetable Mineral guy, and able to get rid of leftover food by
handing it over to the women in the park. It sounds insensitive,
but in the proverbial hustle and bustle of daily life, when do we
really have time to stop and get to know the story of Pirate’s life
or find out whether the Animal Vegetable Mineral guy is really a
vegetarian? And how many of us have been warned against doing just
that by protective parents and the prevailing norms of popular
culture? Some folks manage to find the time do it. Check out an
article written by one of my personal favorite former Daily
Nexus
staffers Chris Trenchard about the man behind the Pirate
by clicking here. But for most of us, the time and the
temptation to talk seriously with the citizens sleeping in the park
eludes us.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re short on time or
skittish about having a one-on-one chat with strangers in sleeping
bags, you don’t have to ignore the folks finding refuge in the
streets, parks, and beaches of I.V. You can even do something to
help them out that goes above and beyond handing over your leftover
Freebirds. As the temperature drops and the local glitterati head
home to hibernate until the requisite short skirts and slutty
shirts are once again acceptable going-out attire, IVfreebox2%5B1%5D.jpg why not take the midwinter months to do
a little something good for society. Or at least clean out your
closet and take those last-season sweaters, socks, and shirts over
to the IVRPD Free box. They may not be able to control exorbitant
rent prices, but the district does a great job of helping to
coordinate a box at their Embarcadero del Mar office where the
haves can drop off clothing and supplies to help out the
have-a-little-less.

Other local organizations to look into include People United for
Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organizing

(PUEBLO), the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara,
and Helping the Homeless in Isla Vista. These three
organizations are all local and all dedicated to making the lives
of their local, less-than-fortunate constituents better. Because
not everyone has the luxury of having a home to pay for or extra
clothes to be able to donate. But, for the most part, us Isla
Vistans do. Which means it is also our luxury — not to mention our
obligation — to share some of that wealth with the world around us,
whether it’s in the form of a big bag of too-baggy clothes, a few
bucks you spend on buying blankets for the people in the park
instead of on beer, or a few minutes you spend helping out the
folks at PUEBLO organize a rally for a living wage.

I don’t mean to preach and, by all means, I don’t mean to imply
that there’s anything wrong with taking your spare time for
yourself and spending your hard-earned cash on something completely
indulgent. But, I can tell you from experience that buying beer is
fun and all, but nothing dulls the pain of overpaying for your
place like taking a minute to remember that at least you’re lucky
enough to have one. And nothing makes stomaching that sort of
realization easier like putting away some spare change to splurge
on sleeping bags for people spending the cold winter nights on the
streets.

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