The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will hire a full-time program manager in an effort to bring more focus and clarity to the well-meaning but sprawling and often uncoordinated fight against homelessness in San Luis Obispo County.
“There’s a nebulous quality” to the way the county has been dealing with the homeless problem, Supervisor Adam Hill said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he is looking for “a new sense of leadership. We’ve got a lot of individuals and a lot of organizations” working to combat homelessness.
According to a January 2010 survey, there are approximately 4,000 homeless people in San Luis Obispo County, half of them children. Another tally is scheduled for January 2013. But the homeless have created a conundrum locally for almost two decades, according to a staff report from Lee Collins, director of the Department of Social Services.
Collins traced the history of attempts — governmental and otherwise — to fight homelessness here.
Over time, Collins said, many organizations have sought to help those who have no place to stay, and those attempts have overlapped at times. In addition, competition has been known to arise for the same state and federal money.
“Now we are seeking to expand and improve,” Collins wrote in an email to The Tribune. “We have had a catch-as-catch-can approach in the past, with a disparate but dedicated group of advocates and bureaucrats and government programs, private citizens and churches and gadflies, cheerleaders and grumps and quiet laborers. All of them are doing good work, and all are trying to make a stew out of hot water and a rock.”
Collins added that federal help comes with conditions attached — and those conditions often change.
“The feds impose a bureaucracy,” he said, to the point where frustrated local officials sometimes ask themselves whether attacking the problem is worth fighting the bureaucracy. In this instance, he said, it clearly is.
Another problem is a misunderstanding among the general public about who the homeless are, Hill said Tuesday. Knowing who they are and what has led them to become homeless is important, he said.
Hill noted that many homeless people are mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the county needs to focus more on finding treatment for those individuals.
Eric Greening, a North County resident who frequently speaks at public meetings, added that many have been thrown into homelessness by the economy.
Given the variety of homeless individuals, the multitude of agencies and individuals trying to help them, the public misunderstanding of the homeless problem, the lack of information, and the ever-changing state and federal bureaucratic requirements, the county must take a step forward and try to address the problem in a coordinated way, supervisors concluded.
Collins said the person hired would “not be a homeless czar,” but rather would work more as a liaison among groups.
“We are not looking for a ‘czar’; we are seeking someone who can work with this disparate group to identify gaps in service and find ways to fill ’em. The individual will be reporting directly to me, and the Board of Supervisors rightfully expects us to make a difference,” he wrote.
The $106,500 salary will come from the budget of the Department of Social Services.
The county is seeking funding for a homeless center on South Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.