Panel: Guidance needed to combat homelessness in SLO County

acornejo@thetribunenews.comNovember 6, 2012 

— Joseph Clower’s children still don’t like to talk about the three years that they spent homeless. But Clower said he believes that sharing his story will help others.

He and two other formerly homeless individuals spoke Monday night about their personal experiences in shelters and on the streets at an informal panel discussion moderated by county Supervisor Jim Patterson at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Clower and his fellow panelists, Diane Culver and Rev. Cynthia Rae Eastman, agreed that providing consolidated services -- and having people available to help homeless individuals navigate those resources -- are essential to getting people off the streets.

The county's most recent homeless report counted 3,774 individuals without permanent housing, a large percentage of them children. That count will be done again in January and the numbers are expected to increase.

A similar panel discussion, also moderated by Patterson, was held last month in the North County at the Fellowship Hall of the Community Church of Atascadero.

A panel of recently homeless residents shared their stories about the struggles of living in shelters, their cars and week-by-week motel rooms.

Among them was a mom escaping domestic violence, parents trying to find balance with children while living in a shelter, and individuals trying to overcome substance abuse.

Both events started with a clip from the documentary “Homeless Not Hopeless (In The Happiest Place in America),” which chronicles the living conditions of some homeless people living in San Luis Obispo County. The film won best local feature film at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in March.

The goal was to increase awareness of the struggles of those who are homeless in San Luis Obispo County and to find possible solutions.

Both discussions included accounts of what led to the panelists becoming homeless, how they accessed healthcare, and how they eventually overcame their situations.

“We’re somewhat of a success story, so we’re a real small (piece) of the problem out there,” panelist speaker Jimmy Forte said at the Oct. 25 discussion in Atascadero. “The majority of the folks that are homeless ... have no direction and no help to identify what resources they need to utilize.”

Panelists also said that developing a detoxification center in San Luis Obispo County would be key to getting substance abusers on the right path. The lack of a such a center has long been identified by substance abuse treatment professionals as a missing link in helping those with substance abuse issues.

Clower, who has lived in the county for 38 years, spent three years living in shelters with his wife and three children.

Now, after tapping into local assistance to find affordable housing, they have a home of their own.

“We take it day by day, little by little,” Clower said.

Staff writer Tonya Strickland contributed to this report. Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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