Park Maintenance Displaces IV’s Houseless Community

Photo by Arianna McDonald

Arianna McDonald

Editor In Chief

Isla Vista (IV) has had many encampments since the start of the pandemic, the largest being in Anisq’Oyo’ Park, which has housed up to 50 houseless individuals. On Dec. 9, the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD) notified residents that they would have to pack up and leave by Dec. 20, citing maintenance in the park that needed to be addressed. 

This motion directly went against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to avoid dispersing encampments during the pandemic because of the risk of community spread, as well as the public outcry against it by IV residents at the IVRPD meeting on Dec. 10. 

Food Not Bombs – Isla Vista, a mutual aid organization that serves hot and cold meals to residents in Isla Vista five days a week, circulated a petition defending the right of these community members to shelter in a place where they feel most safe. “We wholeheartedly reject the argument that this park maintenance and grass upkeep is more important than people’s homes,” said Gina Sawaya, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs – Isla Vista.

Christina Lydick has been a resident for many years and has noticed an increase in IV’s houseless population following the start of the pandemic. She’s disappointed in the state of Anisq’Oyo’ Park, which she considers one of the gems of IV, since it was not intended to be a campground. 

Lydick runs the Isla Vista Beautification Program that employs houseless individuals to address maintenance concerns and beautification of the community. She says there has been an increase in waste, mostly concerning hypodermic needles, which they have to contend with. It is believed that this safety concern was another reason to close the parks. 

Under the COVID-19 Encampment Management Policy (CEMP) that IVPRD passed in August 2020, they are allowed to intervene in encampments under certain circumstances, but will make good faith offers to find other housing accommodations for the houseless community affected by the park closure. 

“‘We wholeheartedly reject the argument that this park maintenance and grass upkeep is more important than people’s homes,’ said Gina Sawaya, a volunteer with Food Not Bombs – Isla Vista.”

Good Samaritan Shelter and the Isla Vista Community Center (IVCC) worked together to build and run 20 Pallet homes in the parking lot of the IVCC to shelter some of these displaced individuals. Kirsten Cahoon with Good Samaritan Shelter described how they chose the individuals who would be offered a spot in the tiny homes. 

“We really collaborated with the people that have been doing outreach out here for a long time and with public health who have been boots on the ground in the parks and Anisq’Oyo’ for months during COVID,” she said. “When we talked to them, we got their priorities as far as who really needed healthcare and were really vulnerable out there.” 

Cahoon says they are a housing first model and the goal is to get these folks permanently housed by June when this project ends. 

However, there were more than double the amount of people needing shelter living in Anisq’Oyo’ Park before the closure. Some of the individuals offered spots in the homes initially turned them down because of the rules associated with living in group-run shelters — which include curfews and sobriety. The rest of the folks were moved into 12×12 chalked squares in People’s Park, a flat open field adjacent to Anisq’Oyo’ Park. 

Sawaya shared in an interview that People’s Park is a floodplain during the rainy season, which is why no one had encamped there before. In Anisq’Oyo’ Park the houseless folk were able to spread out, but in People’s Park, they are densely packed together. 

“That’s intentional, you know, one of my friends who is houseless constantly says that they feel like they’re in a fishbowl. They’re constantly being watched,” Sawaya said. She is frustrated with the lack of resources. “There was no investment in building community. It was just about getting them out of the park.” 

“Although most IV residents support their houseless neighbors, business owners, and a few community members have been opposed to the encampment at Anisq’Oyo’ Park.”

Emily Allen, the program director for Homeless and Veterans Programs of United Way of Santa Barbara County, said there is a lack of community support for houseless people. Oftentimes, community members are opposed to houseless individuals moving into their neighborhoods and will actively speak out against it. This phenomenon is known by the acronym NIMBY, which stands for Not In My Backyard. These folks don’t like low-income individuals or houseless folk living nearby because they fear declining property values, increased traffic and crime, and unfair distribution of social services as a result. 

Andrea Ure, the Women’s Free Homeless Clinic Coordinator for Doctors Without Walls, a nonprofit that provides both medical and basic needs services, described in an interview with The Bottom Line the different effects of living on the street versus in a shelter. 

“I think that probably the biggest effect on people who are housed in shelters is mostly just that they feel more safe,” Ure explained.

Folks living without shelter aren’t able to securely store their belongings and are constantly having to protect them from getting stolen. Ure went on to say that women are “the most vulnerable out of this already-vulnerable population. Unfortunately, there’s so much sexual abuse and sexual harassment among homeless women.”

Although most IV residents support their houseless neighbors, business owners, and a few community members have been opposed to the encampment at Anisq’Oyo’ Park. There is a petition currently going around proposed by UC Santa Barbara student Keegan Canfield to relocate the tiny homes because they are in the center of IV. The petition claims that adequate housing invites more homeless, and says that the shelters are “off-putting and not economically suitable for anyone involved.” 

The petition uses rhetoric like “cleaner and safer atmosphere for students and residents,” to suggest that the houseless community poses a threat to residents if they do not get relocated. 

The question is, where would they go? 

A lot of the houseless community chose to live in IV due to the resources nearby. Food Not Bombs – Isla Vista hand delivers meals to each resident, Home for Good Santa Barbara County does outreach twice a week, St. Michael’s Showers of Blessing offers hygiene care, and Doctors Without Walls distributes supplies. Before the pandemic, these folks could go into the Pardall Center and nearby establishments to use the WiFi and outlets, seek a bit of shelter, and socialize. Sawaya observes that there has always been houseless living in IV, but now they are just more visible because they are all congregated in one area. 

For more information and resources:

Food Not Bombs – Isla Vista: 

Good Samaritan Shelter: 

United Way of Santa Barbara: 

Path SB Central Coast:

Santa Barbara Doctors Without Walls:

St. Michael’s Showers of Blessing: 

Isla Vista Recreation & Park District: