A homeless man died Friday afternoon in Pershing Park along the city’s waterfront. Police dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call at around 4:00 p.m. from his friends, who said the man had fallen asleep but wouldn’t wake up. The Independent has learned his identity, but is not releasing it until his family can be notified. Police said the death appears to be from natural causes and that no foul play is suspected.
As three police officers investigated the body where it lay under trees across from the park’s baseball field, four of the man’s friends sat nearby. They wept and joked and talked about how much they’d miss their companion. “He was such a good guy,” one said. “He always had a smile on his face and would give you the shirt off his back. We were his friends, and he was our friend.” Another, a Vietnam War veteran, said he performed CPR on the man for 10 minutes when he lost consciousness, and that paramedics spent approximately 30 minutes at the scene trying to revive him.
The group relayed that the deceased man, reportedly in his early sixties, said he felt tired last night. “He knew he was dying,” another veteran said. They went on to allege that police regularly harass them at the park and that there are too few places to turn for food and shelter.
Longtime homeless advocate David “Hopper” Hopkins, himself a former addict who used to live on the street and now works with Common Ground, Doctors Without Walls, the Freedom Warming Centers, and other support groups, also spoke about a reported lack of resources, especially for the mentally ill and especially since Casa Esperanza tightened its sobriety rules last summer. He brought the group a bucket of military rations left over from Jesusita Fire emergency supplies.
Hopkins said there have been a few unreported deaths on the streets in recent months, noting how one homeless man died of dehydration during a summer heat wave. He said he recently drove another man to the hospital because the man’s legs had become so swollen he couldn’t walk. The man was soon discharged but now needs to be readmitted, Hopkins said. “They’re falling through the cracks,” he said.
Hopkins complained that rather than providing those in need with housing and services, city authorities force them to just periodically shuffle around town by restricting where they can congregate and sleep. Notably, new “No Parking” signs have been installed in Pershing Park to limit RV dwellers from spending the night there. “Society carves its own damn canoe, but it doesn’t want to get out and take a look at what’s really going on,” Hopkins said.
He did, however, commend the organizers putting on the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down event on October 18 that’s expected to serve approximately 500 veterans, many of them homeless. He said coordinators are still looking for volunteers and donations.