Should Homeless Stuff Be Stored?

Credit: Erika Carlos

A survey of 28 people now lugging their belongings around with them throughout downtown Santa Barbara found that 21 would prefer to keep their stuff in a storage unit if they could. Only one of the respondents reported using one now. Twenty-three said the price of such units posed the biggest obstacle. Others cited transportation and distance as chief obstacles.

In response to growing public concern about transients with shopping carts, a coalition of homeless service providers — led by United Way/Home for Good — conducted the survey to determine if a storage center might fill a pluggable void. The outreach teams focused on people on the streets — not in encampments — carrying more than 90 gallons of gear and belongings in “situations that were visually impactful.”

Respondents listed the most important gear they carried as follows: identification, medicine, birth certificates, financial documents, family mementos, work gear, phones, hygiene products, and sleeping gear. Not having a storage spot, respondents said, left their belongings exposed to rain and theft. Many said the magnitude of their stuff prevented them from seeking shelter and put them in greater contact with the police. Eighteen reported having missed important appointments for fear of putting the gear at risk.

This survey came as part of the blowback sparked by homeless service providers to a proposed city ordinance that would have made it easier for police to seize the belongings of homeless people if left in public spaces. The ordinance was withdrawn from consideration pending exploration of alternatives, including a possible storage facility. While other cities—like San Diego—provide such services, they are not without logistical problems. The Santa Barbara providers wanted to determine whether such an approach would be of interest to the target population before proceeding further.

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