North Coast homeless issues are commanding more attention lately on social media, in neighbor-to-neighbor chats and in meetings of governmental boards and nonprofit agencies.
Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, said recently in response to an email from a resident that he believes “government is not the answer to our problem of homelessness.
“I would be more than happy to share and discuss other ideas that I have in addressing everyone’s concerns,” he said. “However, it will take a willingness on everyone’s part to address and resolve the issue of homelessness in Cambria. Everyone working for a common good could allow all of us to focus … more on the needs of those less fortunate.”
At the Nov. 17 district board meeting, Gruber said he’d be willing to facilitate a community get-together to discuss the problem and brainstorm possible solutions that would make residents feel more secure while also finding more ways to help those homeless individuals who are willing to accept the assistance.
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Gruber said such a meeting would have to be scheduled after the holidays.
“We need to have a community meeting with a lot of different stakeholders and different perspectives,” he said. “It’s time we need to do that, to facilitate that. Somebody has to take the lead.”
That leader “should be CCSD at this point,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can solve all the problems. I don’t have all the answers.”
However, he added, “Cambria does some incredible things at all levels, so it’s time to take this on.”
Doing good things
Various community members and organizations are already acting.
Each winter, students in Coast Union High School’s Rotary Interact Club collect coins, folding money and checks to benefit organizations that help the homeless. They present those donations at the annual Needs ’N Wishes fundraiser in Los Osos, which was held Dec. 10 this year.
In May, 28 North Coast residents joined John Spatafore of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo in Cambria to learn about CAPSLO and possible solutions for the homeless, especially those with children.
Individuals, too, try to help when they can and where they feel safe enough to do so.
Homeless issues in Cambria and along the North Coast are nothing new — a June 2015 fire in a densely wooded section of the town’s Lodge Hill area started in an elaborate, illegal homeless camp.
People who have been homeless briefly or long-term have camped for decades under area shoreline bridges, along creek beds and in the forest.
Law enforcement officers sweep the areas often, doling out eviction notices and advice. Landowners, hikers, neighbors and others who spot squatters notify sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and agencies such as the CCSD, which owns the 430-acre Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, located between two residential areas and the downtown commercial district.
A recent email exchange between a resident and Gruber prompted his comments of concern at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting.
The resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said some people have had confrontations with homeless men in various areas, including by the East Village public restrooms, the pocket park at the creek end of Bridge Street at Center Street, along the creek bed and even in some residential neighborhoods.
The resident recommended locking the public restrooms at 4 p.m. and removing the pocket park, finding another use for it, or making it a native garden with no tables or benches.
Gruber responded that while the CCSD’s role is limited in dealing with the homeless, he’d certainly consider removing the table in the district-owned pocket park. He’s also asked for suggestions from county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, sheriff’s Cmdr. James Taylor and Carlos Mendoza, the resources and facilities supervisor for the CCSD.
At a July North Coast Advisory Council meeting, member Cecilia Lomeli said, “we have not dealt with the huge issue of homelessness in San Luis Obispo County, so people will stay here as long as they know they’ll get free money and food … where they’re comfortable and safe.”
Others participating in a recent Facebook thread worried about an older, overstuffed truck parked in their neighborhood for several days.
A few people responded that some homeless people have no other option but to live in their vehicles or outdoors.
“Where do they go?” Kathy Unger of Cambria asked. “Can you imagine having little or no money and no place to be, no place to lie down and rest, no way to get clean or get warm or get dry, nothing decent and warm to eat? This makes me sick at heart, and I have no answers. Nobody, including me, wants them camping in or near our personal space. But they are human beings with no place to be.”