Santa Barbara Puts 'Offensive' Homeless People in Their Place

Sasha Brown-Worsham

In Santa Barbara, California, looking at homeless people is so offensive that the city budget is slating $50,000 to save the population from the horror. Several city benches are going to be turned around so that the homeless people cannot beg as easily. In some cases, the bench backs are being removed as well to prevent loitering.

Using $50,000 in redevelopment funds, the city is planning to turn 14 benches perpendicular to the State Street storefronts they now face. The idea is to make it more difficult for beggars to establish contact with passersby, officials said.

Santa Barbara is a well-heeled area by any estimation. Oprah lives there among many other big name Hollywood celebrities. It's the best of Southern California (pristine beaches, sun, and heat) with less of the LA hassle. Visiting Santa Barbara can feel warm and welcoming, but apparently, not if you're homeless. Luckily, now they will only be seen from behind. But this is a nice thing! A kind thing!

Most of all, this will keep the wealthy from being harassed by the vagrants, which is, after all, helpful to the upscale shops and their bottom line.

"They'll be sitting with their backs to half the people coming and going on the sidewalk," said Marck Aguilar, a supervisor for the city's redevelopment agency. "They'll have half the potential contacts with the public. It might not be financially beneficial for them."

Quick question for Aguilar and other town officials: might it be better to use that $50,000 to actually HELP these people? Isn't there enough money from all those giant homes in Montecito to actually do something that matters for those who need our help? Are we seriously going to make things less comfortable for people who are already living outside?

Dave Lombardi, a Santa Barbara Downtown Organization board member, said people camping on benches create a negative impression that upsets visitors and residents alike. "We shouldn't have to be accosted or afraid when we go downtown," he said, adding that, with a variety of programs to aid the homeless, Santa Barbara is a very compassionate town.

Hmmm ... I guess he is using the word "compassionate" rather broadly. I mean, they don't outwardly kick homeless people, right? That is pretty "compassionate," right? It seems our love of Ted Willams has not changed the belief that homeless people are unworthy of even the basic respect.

Merriam-Webster defines "compassion" as: "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it."

So, they ARE showing compassion, indeed. But it's not to the homeless people. It's to those who are "distressed" by being asked for change or seeing poverty in their faces.

Maybe it's because it's 20 below zero in my town or because I saw Michael Moore's latest (Capitalism: A Love Story) last night, but this seems absurd to me. Aren't we supposed to want to help our fellow man? This is so elitist, it feels more like a Saturday Night Live skit than reality.

$50,000 is a lot of money. For some, it's an annual salary. Assuming rent at $1,000 a month, it could house 50 people for a month, and the reality is, it could give them much, much more: food, clothing, shelter. But instead, the town will use that money to save wealthy people from hassle.

"Compassion" is not the word that comes to mind ...

What do you think of this decision?

Image via Vince Alongi/Flickr

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