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Working Definitions of Types of Homeless in Santa Barbara

By Sharon Byrne for El Smurfo, regarding recent Views on Santa Barbara’s Homeless.

Grifter: travelling homeless, make their way up and down the coast, or across the country. Come into Santa Barbara at various times of year to camp, stay at Casa Esperanza, and panhandle. Engage in drinking and drug use. Sometimes get into fights, shoplift. Often arrive and depart in packs together.

Transitional Homeless: you’ll never see them, unless you let someone temporarily living in their car sleep in your driveway. Homeless for 2 minutes to 2 days to 2 weeks – they want a job, a place to live, and to return to a normal life ASAP. Despise shelters. Panhandle out of sheer desperation, if ever. If long-term stable employment or housing is unattainable, they can become chronically homeless over time, moving from the car to hotel rooms, wherever they can. This group contains families, and is the focus of news stories on distressing economic conditions. The vast majority find their way back to a stable life. This is also the group referred to when admonished ‘we’re all just one paycheck away…’

Addicts: Think of the crowd at State St at Haley, or lower Milpas. Alcohol or drug issue brought them into homelessness, though some do have places to stay. Panhandle, steal, shoplift – anything to get that next fix. Sleep on the street as consequence of addiction. Thrown out of homes, shelters, for substance abuse issues. In and out of jail for public inebriation, drug use, drug sales. Some move around to different towns, check into detox or shelter, but often go right back to using. Over time, if they remain addicted, they can become chronically homeless…

Chronic Homeless: homeless 5 years or more, stay in same area, don’t travel unless to escape dangerous situation, often beset with addiction and mental illness issues. Very hard to get off the street, and relapse is common. Multiple citations for open container, illegal camping, urination – nuisance crimes. In and out of shelters, and some are banned from the area shelters. Some of the most chronically homeless will not panhandle. It’s a bit of a pride thing with them, and they’ll do odd jobs or get SSI. Mostly want to be left alone, but do sometimes have a social network of similar chronic homeless that help each other out.

Felons: look like homeless men, but edgier – newer clothes, tattoos, haircuts. Newly released from prison or jail back to jurisdiction where they offended (even if not their actual home). Appear homeless, but will rob and attack other homeless. Will accost and aggressively panhandle, swearing they just need gas or a night of lodging…the car broke down, etc. They will often resort to the behaviors for which they were incarcerated: drug use and trafficking, assault, breaking and entering, theft, and sexual assault.
Avoid if possible, and call SBPD if you see them lingering in your neighborhood, or encounter them in a less busy area.

Yoach: the anarchist goth set that congregates at De La Guerra Plaza and in front of the Habit. Rack up $30 an hour from LA Tourists and SB Bleeding Hearts to buy cigs, booze and weed. They hail from Portland, Seattle, Austin, and other liberal cities. Usually 25 and under. NOT actually homeless, just ‘checking out, occupying, and doing the vagabond thing.’ Camp by freeways, hitchhike to next town, hold up offensive (sometimes humorous) signs on State St, travel in packs, usually with pit bulls in tow, guitars, giant mountaineering backpacks, and dreadlocks.

19 Responses to “Working Definitions of Types of Homeless in Santa Barbara”

  1. At home

    Brilliant. Critical to the solution is first eliminating the one overly-broad umbrella word “homeless”.

    Time to re-open state care institutions for those who cannot care for themselves. That was the one clear compassionate answer and we need to go back to that. ASAP

    Offer a degree of a social safety net for those **from** our community in the very temporary state with limits and clear guidelines for support services.

    And the rest (majority) are not in need of care or money; just a different Santa Barbara welcoming message: Hit the road, Jack and don’t come back.

  2. Sharon

    Excellent. Good distinctions. Helpful.

  3. I like to keep it simple…
    Those clawing and scratching for every opportunity and those letting every opportunity slip by….

  4. Nancy

    Reading Sharon’s latest article has me feeling a little disturbed. I know Sharon and am considered a friend of hers. I wish however that her articles about homelessness did not show so much hatred for the homeless situation. There are all sorts of people in this world. “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”
    I have been considered homeless in the City of Santa Barbara for many years. Living in vehicles has been my bane since my income did not come give me the monies to come up to the price of rental housing in this community. I raised my children in motorhomes and stayed within my budget that luckily my jobs, that I was able to maintain, gave me.
    Just because one is homeless does not mean that one is a criminal. I know most of the homeless community. So many of the men on the street are wonderful people. They are sweet, some sick with the throws of alcoholism and other drugs but have always treated me with respect and love. Some have mental illness and it is heartbreaking to see them neglected and treated so badly by today’s society. So much work has got to be done for these people by the rest of us who are lucky enough not to be mentally ill. Job training needs to be created by Trade Schools for the younger men we can label as youches, grifters, felons, transients and all sorts of choice biases that we who fear for a living can muster. Santa Barbara is doing a wonderful job with a part of society who just cannot keep up. Restorative Policing, discipline in the shelters, and the gifts of stranger’s talents do work at solving the economic upheavals in today’s society. Do you know what I did when I was growing up? I walked across America for the homeless. It was the adventure of a life time. What these younger kids, who are unable to go on to pay the tuition it takes to get into college need is a way to create small businesses. But can they buck all the permits it takes to get started? Guess what? The people you see hanging on our streets will someday get tired of it and will go on to better things in life. With intervention that can happen. I have been volunteering my life with the homeless and helping with that kind of intervention for years. I know so many people who once lived on the streets who are now working and raising families of their own. Sometimes it just takes a little help. And Sharon knows this. She and I have worked side by side helping people get into housing.

    • I am with you on that they feel that they are given a choice there are thousands of people homeless that work here in santa barbara there are some that never drank never did drugs. Never. Stop working never stoped asking and got kicked out of. Sheltors because of there roaches and food complaints and the abuse in shelters not allowing them to go to church or drink coffee . Telling them they can not tell anyone they live there and can not have visiters and threaten to kick them out for every little thing .like there child is turning 18 she can not stay . And make you fill out aplications every day this brings your credit score down and it is hard to get it back up .santa barbara has a 6 year wait befor housing kickes in .sometimes your errase from the list and you have to start all over again . There are some good sides to sb .

  5. Sharon Byrne

    Nancy, I think it’s helpful for a lot of folks dealing with the negative effects of homelessness is to understand that it’s not one-size-fits-all. We tend to collapse them all into one broad category of people in a semi-permanent state of despair, drug-addicted, and mentally ill. You didn’t fit that category, clearly. The young set on State are not homeless. They’re traveling, hanging out, have an anarchist bent, and panhandling. They’re causing quite a few issues on State. You and I know quite a few chronic homeless that don’t panhandle, as a matter of honor. So not all homeless panhandle, and not all panhandlers are homeless. This post is a follow-on to one I did a few weeks back where one of the better commentators here noted there’s quite a bit of diversity in what constitutes ‘homeless’. As you say, we work quite a bit with this community, and not everyone knows what we do. We’ve also talked about this not being the best town for employment, also true for the housed! I agree Santa Barbara does a lot more than most cities, but assuming the youth anarchist set are the same as the chronically homeless is misguided. Milpas is struggling, since October, particularly with the felon set. McDonald’s, Tri-County Produce, and Habit employees have all been assaulted in recent months, in their businesses, by this group. It’s about using common sense, and not painting everyone with the same broad brush.

    • Nancy

      Just to reply to your debate with me Sharon. I still find it difficult to label people. Perhaps we might say. ” People who are traveling up and down the coast” to separate them instead of calling them names. When we label people we separate ourselves into catagories. This becomes dangerous since it provides a backdoor into fear and hatred for those catagories. We are all the same. We have age differences, genetic differences and we can without direction fall into a trap we cannot get out of. However we are all human beings, and we must be just as compassionate as we can be. Sometimes we have to invite people into recovery just as you did working with Marcos. You did not let up on him. I think that just making friends with the people on the streets help. Many of these people did not have the great up bringing and skills that us lucky ones did. Even though I know you and we have fun together we have to realize that not all people are capable of differentiating between labels and fear.

  6. Living on the streets in a car or RV is illegal. Therefore, one is a law-breaker. No one has the right to come to a community they cannot afford, and then demand to live there anyway they want. It does not work this way. There are trade schools already and they are affordable – look at all the trades taught at SBCC. Please, can we stop this broken record, Nancy?

    • Nancy

      Do not tell me that I came to this community to live without being able to afford it. I am a third generation Santa Barbaran. The only reason living in a car is illegal is because we, as a society did not know what to do with the low income population of Santa Barbara. Sorry sweetheart. You obviously do not know what it is like to make a low income wage and try and make it anywhere. To survive one has to create ways to live within their budgets. Criminalization is an easy cop out. And there are no real trade schools in the Santa Barbara area. Have you checked out the prices of technical trade schools anywhere? They are not affordable and yes I agree the City College does have some trades like mechanics and a few others. We need more of this.
      When one has family history in a place, one stays in a community. Otherwise we would not be able to grow, plant roots and make a way for ourselves. I do not know what your gender is but I’ll just bet you were not a female single parent trying to raise children and work at the same time. I’ll just bet you were able to buy a home when it was affordable for people. I’ll just bet you did not get taken out by illness, divorce and any other tragedy. And oh yes…My daughter owns her own home in Goleta, California. My son who is disabled still works to obtain stability. And me? I am now retired living on social security because I spent the majority of my life taking care of my children working the jobs that kept me able to work around raising my children into good people. I had to make a ton of sacrifices and now am still in poverty. Should I apologize for this? No! I will still survive in any way shape or form. If you want to charge me with being a criminal you are part of the cop out generation. I shall live in vehicles as long as rent exceeds people’s income. Unless of course, since I am just as opportunistic as the next person, a better life comes my way. So criminalize me. I don’t care. And that my friend is why people live in their vehicles. Not to hurt anyone but just to survive. I am in Santa Barbara to help my 90 year old father survive to be 100. Remodeling his home and visiting with him along with my other brothers and sister. You go on with your life and I will go on with mine however we may able to do so.

      • Professional Homeless

        Get a new act, Nancy. You have no right to live beyond your means, anywhere.

  7. Nancy calling the kettle black.
    Nancy has does nothing but make life in my vehicle hell, while she has coddle the rv crowd on Cabrillio ….
    Merely for the fact that I’ve spoken out about her policies at safe parking.
    More to come!

    • el_smurfo

      My only safety net is the one I made myself…thanks for your concern , Steve.

  8. el_smurfo

    There but for the grace of god is the ultimate espression of what is wrong with homelessness in Santa Barbara. I know personally that it would not take an intervention from some deity to keep me off the streets. I have worked my life to build a safety net for me and my family, both financially and interpersonally. I know that I would be able to land on my feet regardless of what life throws at me and certainly would not remain in one of the most expensive cities in the country , demanding a handout if I could not.

  9. huh? Did El smurpho just tempt God?
    Must be that lavish safety net stuff that gives him so much confidence.

    • smurf fan

      There’s no need for that kind of anonymous comment.One of the great things about his particular site is that it rarely gets this kind of inappropriate personal attack that has no basis for even being written. Please stop.

  10. el_smurfo

    Please post examples of my rampant racism…until then, the only marginally literate racist I see here is you, mk, mc, mwhatever

  11. Sorry, sorry. I was just finishing up downloading a movie online (Ladies with Wieners 9) when the cat kicked out the internet cable just before it finished. I had to start all over. As you can imagine I was in such a bad mood I needed to come here and vent.

    Anyway, I did manage to download the movie, and I just had a nice romantic evening with myself, so all is well. Thanks for your understanding.