With the number of new infections going down and the rate of vaccinations increasing, Santa Barbarans are responding to the large number of homeless people in plain sight with a mixture of compassion and of outrage. Some, like Jim Knell — downtown’s largest commercial landlord — have been bombarding City Hall with angry emails detailing the fecal depredations of people squatting in the nooks and crannies of State Street’s many vacant storefronts. At City Hall itself, a security guard has been stationed in the entrance after a city employee was grabbed by the hair and thrown to the sidewalk by an individual who’d made the brown lawn of De la Guerra Plaza his hangout.
In the meantime, city authorities have cleared people living in tents — and a few vans — from several city parks. Where they wound up is uncertain, but State Street remains a fair guess. Homeless-rights advocates complained that people were not given enough warning that the sweeps were coming, and that personal belongings were improperly seized. Police deny that, insisting that park campers were given ample warning and plenty of opportunity to take their belongings. No shopping carts were seized, they stated, and only two vans were impounded, both for multiple unpaid tickets.
In the short term, however, Showers of Blessing has begun operating out of the municipal parking lot at Carrillo and Castillo streets every Tuesday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. This week, they provided free showers to 28 individuals who live in their vehicles or are otherwise homeless. Each shower is 12 minutes long; guests are provided shampoo, toothpaste, new underwear, and new socks. In addition, Showers of Blessing offers free meals prepared by UCSB culinary workers. This week, that entailed roast beef sandwiches accompanied by Asian chicken salad served with broccoli and ginger dressing. Later, this parking lot will be used by SB ACT as a “navigation center” where food, clothes, medical treatment, and pet care — in addition to showers — will be served.