Published in SLO Journal Plus, November 2009 (download PDF)
By SLO City Council Member, John Ashbaugh
LAST YEAR IN OCTOBER, THE SLO COUNTY BOARD of Supervisors adopted a “lO-Year Plan to End Chronic
Homelessness.” This plan was the result of many long months of deliberations by a large, ad-hoc task force that included over 100 community leaders from throughout the County. Several Community agencies were represented in this group, along with staff or elected officials from all seven incorporated cities, State and Federal legislative staff, non–profit organizations that serve the homeless, and several private citizens.
A year has now passed since the plan’s adoption, and it’s a good time to reflect: How many homeless people do we have in this county.anyway? And what arc we really doing to end homelessness? The County’s homeless population is high, and it is growing: Our 2009 Homeless Enumeration Survey, conducted in January, estimates 3,829 homeless persons in the county, of whom, 372 were children under 18, TIle number has grown by almost 60% since 2006, and by a whopping 67% in the number of kids.
To the second question. we can say emphatically that much work is being done to implement the lO-year plan – though many key decisions lie just ahead. In September. County Supervisors appointed a 24 -person Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC), which includes 8 local elected officials – Supervisor Adam Hill and members from all seven City Councils. HSOC also includes representatives from non-profits, affordable hOUSing developers, the educational community, and law enforcement.
According to the Board resolution that established HSOC, our purpose is “to lead. facilitate, and provide oversight for the implementation of the 10-Year Plan … (to) increase partner participation and service coordination, increase programmatic efficiencies and enhance accountability of program delivery,” On October 21. HSOC held our first official meeting.
Additionally, progress is being made to replace the existing 49-bed Maxine Lew is Homeless Shelter on Orcutt Road. That facility was developed in 1989 by the Economic Opportunity Commission (now known as t he Community Action Partnership, or CAP-SlO). The site is remote from most services; it’s far too small to accommodate the needs of our local homeless population; and its physical plant is deteriorating rapidly.
Nearby communities are proving the importance of integrating services with shelters. On September IS, a group of about 20 community leaders visited three such facilities in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. Our neighbors to the south provide excellent integrated facilities and programs for their homeless population. Santa Barbara alone provides over 400 beds of emergency and transitional housing in four separate shelters – including two that we didn’t even have time to visit! (Notably, Santa Barbara County adopted its own “10-year plan” in 2007, a full year ahead of ours).
Where would we place a new homeless facility? One potential site is a 1.1-acre County-owned property located near the corner of Prado Road and South Higuera Street – only a short block away from the Prado Day Center and next to the County Department of Social Services. This site is large enough to accommodate. among other facilities, an enlarged shelter, dining and laundry facilities, and other ancillary services to help the homeless get “back on their feet.” The new shelter would have an enclosed inner courtyard, so that residents will be able to gather there, rather than outside. Very soon, the Board of Supervisors. City Council, and Airport Land Use Commission will be reviewing the proposed homeless services “campus.” These agencies will regulate its size, occupancy, and design to assure it is suitable for its users and for the neighborhood.
There are some tough choices ahead as we wrestle with increasing homelessness in SLO County. It isn’t enough that we adopted the 10-Year Plan. Forming the Homeless Services OverSight Council is just a step along the way. And when we finally “cut the ribbon” on a new homeless services facility, even that will be just a means to an end: An end to chronic homelessness; a distant vis ion, but one that we must keep firmly in sight.
How can YOU help? Many community organizations serve the homeless: CAP SLO, Friends of Prado Day Center, People’s Kitchen, ECHO (North County), or our own Human Relations Commission. Donations are ALWAYS welcome, not only of money but your time. Please support programs and facilities deSigned to eliminate the scourge of chronic homelessness.