How the Homeless Survive in Santa Barbara
There's Even Homeless in Nirvana
Santa Barbara is called the American Riviera. The Santa Ynez mountains are on one side and the Pacific on the other. The weather is near perfect--it never gets too hot nor too cold, and averages about 64 degrees. There is beauty everywhere and festivals galore. It simply is an idyllic place to live. It's average household income is $95,000 and the housing prices may be high, but we believe its worth it.
But for Santa Barbara's homeless population, it is not nirvana.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless, there are 6,150 homeless people in Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara's population is approximately 90,000. In Santa Barbara you see both beauty and the homeless everywhere. You can see homeless panhandling on State Street, sleeping in the parks, asking for help in front of upscale markets like Whole Foods. You can see them snooze in the libraries and camping out on the government lawns and on the manicured beaches of Santa Barbara. They are everywhere and no matter where you go, they are there.
They are young, old, disabled, intoxicated, insane--as well as mannerly, quiet, and unobtrusive. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They are just like us.
How Do the Homeless Survive?
When you look at the quality of life of the homeless and what they have to go through day in and day out with who knows what kind of medical care--you wonder, How do they survive?
Like all human beings, they have the life instinct. The life instinct is that strong urge or desire to live and survive despite huge obstacles. They do what it takes to get by. They are resourceful and shrewd and intelligent. The average person just doesn't see it, but it is there.
Many of the homeless don't look like they take care of themselves with their matted, long hair; some homeless have body odor and wear clothes that are dirty and tattered.
But there are other homeless people who might make it to one of the free showers in the park or the beach. They might cook something on the barbecue spit in the park. They might hang their clothing out to dry on a large boulder with the sun beating down on it. Some might even sleep in a county run facility and clean up there and get some food in their belly.
When it comes to survival--the homeless can be quite ingenious. No matter how tough the road is.
Do you give money to the homeless?
Ways the Homeless Get Money
- Dumpster dive for recyclables like empty bottles and cans, which then can be sold for money.
- Panhandle on the street--typically on State Street or in front of upscale markets where people might have money.
- Government checks sent to a post office box.
- Family handouts.
- Do under the table work for small shop owners.
Santa Barbara's Homeless Demographics
- Single men make up 60% of the homeless population in Santa Barbara
- Homeless families represent 15% of the homeless population
- Single women make up 15% of the homeless population
(National Coalition for the Homeless)
Did the Homeless do it to Themselves?
Really, who wants to be homeless. The facts indicate that being homeless results from a variety of circumstances.
- Mental Illness
- Substance Abuse
- Co-occurring Disorders (a person with two disorders like an addiction and mental illness)
- Other circumstances: release from jail, job loss, divorce, loss of housing, chronic health conditions, exiting the foster care system--just to name a few
(From a report on homelessness services in the county of Santa Barbara--www.commongroundssb.org)
How Do You See the Homeless?
I live in Santa Barbara and I see the homeless everyday. I drive by them in my car and see them pushing their carts and maneuvering their wheelchairs on a crowded sidewalk. I pass them as I walk to the store and look in their eyes and I see the pain and the struggle that they go through day in an day out. And I think how lucky I am to have a home and don't have to sleep on the ground and worry about things in the night. The homeless serve as a reminder of how privileged that I am.
But some people view the homeless as an eyesore and something less than human.
I simply remind them that things happen and people fall victim to circumstances. The homeless don't want to be homeless--nobody does. There's no benefit to being without a place to live. It is the people that are blessed by good luck and have enough money that need to show compassion. It's our obligation.
Tell me what you think. Do you see the homeless as a blight in your community or just a reminder of how fortunate that you are? Your comments are welcome.