SANTA BARBARA, Calif., March 2, 2007 — -- This is a city for people who have arrived in life. Located an hour and a half up the coast from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara's flowery hills are covered with multimillion dollar homes that have a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean.
But the coastal community is also home to a growing population of people who have no roof over their heads, the homeless who wander the streets and sleep on public benches.
And now the city has a new class of resident, not quite homeless -- but doesn't have a home either. They are the working poor who live in their cars, trucks and campers. Call them the mobile homeless.
"We've lived in the homeless shelter, and it's full of people that are drunk and on drugs," said Carlos Cortez.
Working but too poor to afford rent in this expensive city, Cortez and his wife, Naomi, scraped together enough money to buy an old recreational vehicle they can live in.
It's a phenomenon that is happening all over the country as people are priced out of local housing and have nowhere else to go where life might be better.
California alone has about 350,000 homeless people. Santa Barbara has 2,000, some still trying to make it in the working world.
"Some work in the service industries, some work in the local hotels and motels," said Gary Linker, director of New Beginnings Counseling Center, which works with the homeless. "Some of them work for the city and county," he said.
Naomi Cortez supervises the deli counter at a local supermarket in Santa Barbara. "I have many co-workers who rent rooms for $1,400 a month, and they don't have a full kitchen like I have … [or] their own shower … their own bath," she said.
For years, people like Carlos and Naomi quietly parked their vehicles near the beach or on quiet roads in residential neighborhoods. But they were constantly running afoul of the homeowners in this image-conscious city.
And when the city tightened parking restrictions to squeeze out the vehicle-dwellers, they lived in constant fear of having their homes towed away. "I would be stressed to the max all the time because I didn't want to lose this thing," said Derek Tuck, standing in the doorway of his RV after a day of work.