On March 1, 2011, Common Ground volunteers counted 1,056 homeless people in Santa Barbara County’s South Coast. Recently, Trinity Episcopal Church decided to stop being a “safe haven” for the poor and frail people who took refuge on their doorsteps, the Freedom Warming Centers closed their doors, and Casa Esperanza decreased their winter bed numbers of 200, to 100.
The result is that many more poor, infirm, and mentally ill people are wandering our streets at night seeking refuge in doorways. Meanwhile, the local police continue to write countless tickets to people whose only crime is having no where to sleep. This has to stop. Last week I spoke to a man who received three tickets in a single night. This is an injustice.
Seat at the Table is a new homeless advocacy group that is organizing homeless and formerly homeless people to shape public policies that address the systemic causes of poverty and homelessness. We are working on a “Safe Sleeping Progam” modeled on the Safe Parking Program. The group hopes to help people to find a safe place to sleep without being harassed by the police. All human beings have the right to a safe place to sleep. We do not yet know what this will look like, but it is the right thing for our community to do.