by Harry Parmenter
Despite all the political handwringing about homelessness, California’s approach is to let it run amok. We have normalized abnormal behavior. The creep is insidious.
For example, within the last month I have seen in the SCV:
- A man urinating in the middle of the day on the grass rimming the parking lot on the northwest corner of Soledad and Bouquet, a dozen feet from a bus stop. I watched this through the window as I ate lunch across the street. He was in no hurry and appeared sane.
- A man or woman (unclear) swaddled in filthy clothes and amassing large black plastic trash bags to accompany a shopping cart of sad possessions on the sidewalk outside of Starbucks in the T.J. Maxx shopping center on Soledad. I have seen this person several times now in what appears to be his or her residence. Sanity questionable.
- A barefoot, shirtless man crossing a Soledad crosswalk on a cold, windy day, then waiting for the light to change so he could cross the entryway to the Vons shopping center at Sand Canyon. Sane.
- Another shirtless man, this one wearing shoes, on another cold, windy day walking briskly down the sidewalk just a block west of where I had seen the other guy, but no relation. Sane.
- A disheveled man talking animatedly to himself in the parking lot of the Newhall Jack in the Box at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, temperature 36 degrees. Not sane.
- A man in a worn fedora and throwback hobo clothes trudging back and forth regularly on Sand Canyon to and from Vons, carrying his provisions back to his secret resting spot somewhere south of the railroad tracks. Sane.
- A man lying practically in the street on Sand Canyon, again, just beyond the railroad tracks, his torso sprawled across the curb onto the dirt, his legs splayed on the concrete, feet near the white line just a few feet from the road where vehicles swoop by at 35 mph and up. Beside him was the inevitable shopping cart, nearly drifting into oncoming traffic. Sanity questionable.
Only after driving by this last sad case did I call the Sheriff’s department, where the dispatcher took down the information after initial indifference, before I emphatically reiterated the guy might be hit by a car. Not that law enforcement can do much about the homeless problem; their hands are tied. Nobody is doing much about it, and even the Supreme Court punted, leaving a lower court ruling in place that struck down a law criminalizing sleeping in public places if no shelter space is available.
I know nothing about any of the people mentioned above, but I do believe they, like all of us, have made choices in life. Of course, mental illness and affordable housing are factors in many cases, but still, people make choices, including sponging off the government or one’s family or committing the unsavory acts necessary to survive on the street. Ask not what your country can do for you, demand it.
Go on YouTube and watch the local news documentary “Seattle is Dying.” This is the future of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and, potentially, the SCV.
Again, this is no fault of law enforcement; it is the politicians who have fostered this development by refusing to address it in the name of sanctuary and identity politics, and have bred a culture of entitlement that elevates the individual’s right above those of the collective.
My daughter has been homeless and endured degradations I don’t even want to know about. A while ago, I went searching for her in Santa Barbara, traversing the streets, shelters and multiple congregation spots of the truly great unwashed. I walked into the beautiful old Santa Barbara public library only to be greeted by an odor that made Goodwill smell like Bed Bath & Beyond. Everywhere homeless people sat or slumped, reading, pretending to read or just passed out. The only “safe place” I could find in the place was the children’s reading room downstairs.
I was going to investigate a tent city by the 101 freeway despite extreme caution from a social worker I’d met that morning. I parked off the exit ramp and slipped a pocketknife into my jeans, but was unable to find the secret entrance to the compound. A few days later in beautiful downtown Burbank, I noticed a guy with a bandana and laminated vest crossing the street just ahead of me. I initially mistook him for a city worker before noticing the machete he brandished by his side. He stepped through a hole in the fence leading down to the 134 freeway and vanished. I later learned machetes are the weapons of choice in homeless enclaves, where territorialism abounds and intruders take their lives in their hands by invading their turf. A badass government worker in Santa Barbara told me he never goes down there without armed security. Good luck with that pocketknife, Harry.
I’ve learned from my daughter and the worlds she’s entered that it’s very difficult to change a homeless person’s behavior. Yes, there are the industrious people who’ve lost their jobs or had a tough break and are forced to sleep in their car or on the street out of desperation, yet yearn to return to being a productive member of society.
The reality is, however, that the homeless population is dominated by addicts and people who simply do not want to work, do not want to be responsible, do not want to follow the rules and norms of the rest of us, as long as they can avoid a job and just get high. These are addicts who beg, borrow and steal and have no compunction about living in public spaces and being a blight on society. Shelter and housing are a start, but drug rehabilitation is the only ultimate hope for those who want to return to the real world. The Rhode Island-based treatment program seen in “Seattle is Dying” offers hope and ideas worth considering.
If we can refocus the issue, we can help those who want it and blunt the creep. Or we can continue to normalize the abnormal and watch the creep continue, closer and closer to home.