First they came for our bathrooms and locked them. Then they came for our sidewalk benches. Now they’ve come for our parks.

As someone who sometimes slept in Santa Barbara’s city parks because of the lack of affordable housing — and was an excellent caretaker of them — I am disappointed by the councilmembers’ decision to close our parks early. Parks are a source of beauty and respite day and night, not a venue to be monitored by security cameras, as some have advocated.

Blame for the state of our parks is often placed on those without housing, most of whom are just looking for a safe and quiet place to live and sleep. If blame must be placed, it should be levied on the greedy bankers, politicians, property owners, heads of corporations, and pharmaceutical and technology executives whom have been waging war against poor people for decades and defunding mental-health services.

Santa Barbara is not a 1980s soap opera! It has glaring economic disparity, on full display when Granada Theater attendees step over the sleeping bodies of houseless individuals after performances. Hunger, panhandling, shoplifting, and houselessness will increase if federal officials cut food benefits, which they are trying to do.

A city’s greatness lies not in its wealth, power, or image but in how it treats its most vulnerable: the poor, the hungry, the houseless, those living on the margins. A few years ago, I addressed the councilmembers and offered them my services and solutions in a lengthy proposal. One councilmember snickered at me, the others ignored me, and all of them voted to conduct more misguided headcounts and surveys. While Nero fiddled, our coffee shops and public libraries have become de facto adult day care centers.

The county housing authority helped many people get off the streets of Isla Vista, myself included, by building Pescadero Lofts. It is long past time the City of Santa Barbara found the will to house its chronically houseless inhabitants. It is shameful that in a city so wealthy, vast numbers of people — including women, children, and the elderly — are forced to sleep outside while city officials focus on banning plastic straws. Where has the compassion, decency, and common sense gone?

Parks belong to the people and should be accessible to us at all times. Stop scapegoating those without housing and deal with the real issue: too many of our community members need a place to call home.


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