San Luis Obispo City Councilman Dan Carpenter has taken the contrarian position of opposing plans for a new homeless shelter in the city — but not for the usual reasons.
He’s not focusing on size or location or possible conflicts with neighbors, but rather, on a more fundamental question: Are traditional, congregate-care shelters the most effective way to end homelessness?
Carpenter says no, and he objects to giving the project a $250,000 city grant for design and construction. He believes the money would be spent “more humanely” on the “Housing First” model, which aims to put homeless people into permanent housing from the start, rather than assigning them first to a temporary shelter, then to transitional housing and finally, to permanent homes.
We, too, strongly support the Housing First concept. So do many homeless advocates, and so, for that matter, does the county’s “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness,” which Carpenter disparages as a failure.
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In fact, Housing First is already being implemented here. A 50Now program underway in San Luis Obispo County is finding permanent housing for 50 of the most fragile homeless residents in the county, and linking them to supportive services to help them live independently.
A separate, grant-funded program to find housing for homeless veterans also is gearing up.
But such programs may not serve the needs of all homeless individuals; nor is there nearly enough low-cost rental housing in the county to quickly provide for our homeless population of about 3,000 people.
Carpenter suggested we start addressing the gap by allocating the $4.5 million for the homeless shelter to building permanent, supportive housing.
That’s not nearly enough money. Besides, it would take years of planning and permitting to make a dent in our housing backlog, especially given the historical reluctance of local communities to accept high-density housing.
As much as we may like to quickly transition to a “Housing First” model, for the foreseeable future, shelter beds — and the supportive services that shelter staffs provide — are critically needed.
Carpenter himself acknowledged that need; he supports keeping the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter and the Prado Day Center open for the time being, and then letting the faith-based community — which provides overflow beds for those who can’t be accommodated at Maxine Lewis — step in and take over.
We see a few problems with that: (1) Prado Day and Maxine Lewis are falling apart. They must be retired and replaced as soon as possible. (2) Resources are too scattered; the new shelter would operate far more efficiently by combining services under one roof.
(3) We agree that the religious community should continue to play a vital role in ministering to the homeless, but expecting it to take on all the duties of paid staff at Maxine Lewis and Prado Day is asking far too much.
Bottom line: The goal of ending homelessness is commendable, but giving up shelter beds won’t achieve that. It will only put more people out on the street.
Remember, it took years of negotiating to finally come up with an agreed-upon plan for the new shelter. Abandoning that now would be a huge step backward. We strongly urge the San Luis Obispo City Council to approve the $250,000 grant to develop the Prado Road shelter.