Do Not Remove Anisq’Oyo Park’s Houseless Encampments
By Catrina Sada of Food Not Bombs-Isla Vista
Dear Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD),
On December 9, 2020, you posted a notice at the largest houseless encampment in Isla Vista which asserted that, “A cleaning of this area will commence on Monday, December 21… please remove all personal property from this area by Sunday, December 20.” You plan to remove people’s personal belongings and force them to vacate the park. With only 11 days’ notice, you are callously separating our houseless neighbors from their homes, just in time for the holidays, the onset of winter, and the peak of a pandemic.
The eviction of some of Isla Vista’s most vulnerable and underserved residents does not benefit our community at large. Your insistence upon “maintenance” and “cleaning”--namely, mowing the lawn, auditing irrigation, collecting trash, and setting gopher traps--pales in comparison to the importance of respecting houseless people’s autonomy. You are clearly not taking public opinion into account: hundreds have signed a petition against the evictions, and fourteen community members vehemently opposed the move at your December 10 board meeting, during which the park closure wasn’t even part of the agenda. Your Board Chair refuses to hold a special meeting to discuss this issue further, and you did not bring your plans up in any public meeting or with the County Encampment Task Force, of which you are a member. You justified the closure using the COVID-19 Encampment Management Policy (CEMP), despite the passage of that document also facing public backlash back in August.
According to your mission statement, your district is supposed to “encourage public participation in its functions.” Yet, instead of facilitating meaningful cooperation between your institution and the community of Isla Vista, your staff have refused to be transparent and have instead taken clandestine action, knowing your anti-houseless agenda would find little support from community members.
In the board meeting, IVRPD General Manager Kimberley Kiefer stated that she “absolutely love[s] a lot of those community members” and views the removal as “an opportunity to connect people with what they need.” She reiterated important principles of leadership in parks, that “it’s important to include everybody, including people that are unspoken.” Yet despite her reassurances and professed respect for the houseless, your organization's actions are in clear opposition to the desires of Anisq’Oyo Park’s residents. A survey conducted by FNBIV on December 15 revealed that twenty out of twenty five surveyed residents wished to remain in the park. Even though ten people had moved into the tiny pallet homes set up in IV as of December 16, a substantial number of Anisq’Oyo Park residents are still unable to secure spots in the tiny homes, have no interest in moving out of the park, or both. If you truly believed in the principles of inclusive leadership, you would have taken the needs and desires of each houseless resident into consideration. Instead, you have prioritized your own objectives of maintenance and cleaning at the expense of the autonomy and health of the houseless. What’s more, you have threatened our houseless neighbors with arrest if they refuse to leave their homes. IVRPD, with support from the County and Third District Supervisor Hartmann, are completely out of touch with the community they serve, at the same time as they are willing to impose their will upon this community in crucial situations like the one at hand.
These evictions are particularly cruel in light of the current pandemic. California is under a stay-at-home order, and expecting people to relocate during a pandemic is a danger to their health and to public health as a whole. IV’s houseless residents should have the freedom to remain where they are in order to remain safe and autonomous, meeting their needs as they best see fit without endangering themselves or others. The CDC has specifically recommended that houseless people’s encampments not be removed so that their occupants may have the chance to shelter in place. The CDC’s Interim Guidance on Unsheltered Homelessness and COVID-19 emphasizes that that all relevant agencies, such as those with jurisdiction over parks, should “...allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” Despite this guidance, you are clearly prioritizing the appearance of local parks over the health of the houseless community.
You have betrayed public trust by forcefully removing people who are sheltering in place in Anisq’Oyo Park. As Isla Vista residents, UCSB students, and neighbors to our houseless community, we implore you to call off this eviction and listen to the voices of the Isla Vista community.
To take further action in opposing this decision by IVRPD, you can sign this petition, email or call IVRPD’s General Manager and Chairperson, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for further updates.
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