Out on my early morning walk a block or so from home, I saw an older homeless man pooping into a trash bag just outside of the Starbucks. The man had lived there on the sidewalk for several weeks, usually just a lump covered in an old dirty blanket. I had only seen his face a time or two.
I had heard that he was about my age and also like me, a Navy veteran. I thought a lot about that man on my walk that morning and how, since serving our country long ago, our paths diverged so profoundly.
I thought about what causes a person to have nowhere to live and the longer I walked that morning, the more I felt somehow involved. I started to think about the time I bought my house over 20 years before. It had been a rental with two families living in it, but soon thereafter, only me. I’ve heard it called gentrification, but to me, it was just a great deal in a run-down, crowded downtown neighborhood, a few minutes’ walk to State Street. It made me feel better that I had remodeled the place and contributed to what I thought was a needed revitalization.
Others followed and before long, my neighbors were no longer crammed four to a bedroom, but professionals — architects and college professors. They fixed up their homes as well. We talked on the sidewalk while walking our dogs. It seemed right. And street parking got a little easier.
A few properties in the area remained dilapidated with several families in each. Someone complained and the city sued the owner for code violations. That also seemed right — those people were living in squalor. Consequently, the properties were sold and fixed up and the many families moved away. Some of those properties turned into second/vacation homes like the one I used to own in another city. And again, street parking got a little easier.
A few blocks from my house, there used to be old apartment buildings with super-cheap rents. Flop houses full of old folks, drug addicts and mentally ill. Today, they are boutique hotels, the kind you look for when traveling to interesting places. We have several downtown and they are nice. Sometimes my out-of-town guests stay there.
More recently, my architect and college professor neighbors sold and moved away. Their houses were purchased by investors and now my neighbors are short-term renters. Mostly up from L.A., just for the weekend. We’re changing my neighborhood, so that others can enjoy my city like I prefer to enjoy theirs. These days, on Mondays and Tuesdays, street parking is available everywhere.
In the past few weeks, I have heard of a neighborhood house for sale as a timeshare. Seems like a cool idea to own a timeshare downtown Santa Barbara. It used to have a swing set in the side yard.
When I got home from my walk and looked in the mirror, I started to think that I had answered my own question. That is why there are no cheap places to live — we’re fixing them up and turning them into businesses. Places I like to go, things I like to do.
Who is causing the homeless/affordable housing crisis? That morning I think I found him shaving in my bathroom.