We started reporting in California back in 1967, just as hippies started flocking to California’s sunshine in hopes of, well, who knows what?
Many of them arrived in old Volkswagen vans and battered panel trucks, mobile homes for those with little money but high on hope [and a lot of other stuff, too].
We had moved to Oceanside, working for the late, lamented Blade-Tribune.
Every newsroom back then had police scanners, tuned to the frequencies of local police,m sheriff’s, and state law enforcement agencies, so we kept our ears attuned to code numbers for significant crimes as well as the occasional cop-to-cop banter.
We also had to learn another kind of code, the peculiar terms used by local cops to describe people, things, and activities. [One such term we learned a couple of jobs earlier was sail cat.]
In Oceanside, we started hearing a new term, creepy-crawler.
Which I soon learned meant hippie.
When parking becomes a matter class politics
Oceanside was booming, thanks to the Vietnam War, because the engine of the town’s economy was the adjacent Camp Pendleton, a veritable factory for turning out well-trained Marines to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
You saw the occasional pickup truck with a camper or a trailer, even cars like the Nash Ambassador with a front seat that dropped back level with the back seat to form a very comfortable bed, as we know from personal experience.
Until the creepy-crawlers came, the occupants of those vehicles had either been tourists or folks visiting Marines at the base, people who in any case looked like everybody else and contributed to the local economy by spending on meals and other things.
Creepy-crawlers, on the other hand sucked money out, what with their panhandling and all — or so the reasoning went.
But even worse, they freaked out the straights and scared people off, what with their long hair, unshaven skin and those weird clothes, the beads, and all that pot and other weird shit they were taking.
Not exactly what you wanted in a town where to official motto was Tan Your Hide in Oceanside.
Like many other cities up and down the coast, California began enforcing new or rarely used parking ordinances, aimed at hippies while simultaneously also banning those who had once been tolerated, thanks to all those pesky civil liberties lawyers who were fighting against selective enforcement.
In other words, the unwillingly unemployed and the working classes were also victimized along with the creepy-crawlers.
Hippies are, for the most part, long gone, but the poor remain, today’s victims of laws drawn up in a different era.
How a Santa Barbara tackles the problem
A few years after we worked in Oceanside, we took an interim job in Los Angeles, where we I handled printing jobs for an NGO. We met a graphics designed who lived in Santa Barbara, a town to the north I’d only passed through on the Pacific Coast Highway.
What’s it like? I asked.
You know what they say about Santa Barbara, don’t you? she replied.
Allowing as how I didn’t, she responded: It’s the home of the very rich and the very poor, the newly wed and nearly dead.
Just as Oceanside was middle class, Santa Barbara was home of some of California’s richest, and remains so today. And in very few places do the rich exercise their control so openly, with the shameless assistance of the local newspaper.
And in Santa Barbara, laws against folks sleeping in their vehicles are strictly enforced.
Homeless in the Shadow of Santa Barbara’s Mansions
From the accompanying report:
Twelve years ago, the Safe Parking program, run by the nonprofit New Beginnings Counseling Center, began offering a provisional solution. Its program places those sleeping in their vehicles into 20 private parking lots scattered around the city and provides bathroom facilities and some security. The parking lots are available only overnight and the cars must move by early morning. The group estimates they take 125 vehicles off the street every night and help more than 750 people a year.
The stories that Safe Parking’s clients tell me often involve a catastrophic financial loss precipitated by unemployment, domestic violence, injury or illness and the resulting medical bills. Most are working, although they have often lost secure, decently paid jobs and now struggle to make ends meet with multiple part-time jobs. A growing number of those forced to live out of their cars are families. All have been priced out of a brutal housing market.
Rents in Santa Barbara have skyrocketed in recent years — 20 percent in the last year alone — with one-bedrooms priced at $1,500 or sometimes significantly higher. The simple calculus of supply and demand is partly to blame. With a vacancy rate below 0.5 percent, a crisis figure, the housing market is at the mercy of landlords. Nor are there enough subsidized units to make up the shortfall for low-income renters — or plans to build sufficient numbers of new ones to meet the need, advocates say. “Santa Barbara’s housing market is broken and has been,” explains Chuck Flacks, executive director of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness.