It has come to my attention in the last few months — as I attempted, with mixed results, to aid Dan DeVaul and Sunny Acres in becoming a sober living center for the homeless and indigent — that there were other organizations, more established, not completely serving these clients.
At first I thought, well, how can this be? Surely the county and various private organizations such as churches were meeting the needs of itinerant and not-so-itinerant homeless. (A large percentage of local homeless, I’ve found out, are long-term local residents who have fallen on hard times.) People like Becky Jorgeson, also a long-time resident and former Sunny Acres volunteer, were making what appeared to be “wild” statements about the unwillingness of the Prado Day Center and Maxine Lewis Shelter to assist “her” clients (she has become a self-styled independent advocate) when they were, for whatever reasons, expelled from the one shelter or refused services at the dropin center. Jorgeson kept meeting these people on the streets, who said they truly had no place to go.
Then winter set in, early. The county was caught without any warming center, and The Tribune editorialized that our neighboring county, Santa Barbara, already had three in operation — in Lompoc, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara itself. Thankfully, the county supervisors found $5,000 to open Prado Day Center to overnight services in foul weather. Before that Jorgeson had begun, at her own expense (and, believe me, I know what she has spent as I’ve seen the receipts) supplying homeless people seeking minimal shelter near the transit center with food, cell phones (to help with the job application process), money for showers, shoes, even bus tickets elsewhere. (I understand one anonymous city council member helped with the latter.)
I felt compelled to donate as well, and beyond money, my wife and I have been delivering used clothes, blankets, sleeping bags and a tent to the transit center at night. I have felt proud to be a part of this effort, before now pretty much unknown to the public.
Jorgeson is a one-woman crusader but she is beginning to attract collaborators. I put her in touch with Cynthia Eastman, a minister who runs Common Ground Worldwide from SLO, and both are pretty determined to see some form of tent city arise in SLO County, which has its precedents in many other places, such as Fresno, Sacramento and Portland. There are many hurdles before a tent city can be established (it can’t happen at Sunny Acres) but it seems an obvious step if the county will begin by encouraging establishment of a Santa Barbara-type arrangement where homeless people can park overnight, and eventually a transitional tent-type camp.
A tent city can be well organized and operated in such a way that there would be no liability to the county. An organizer of Dignity Village in Portland is scheduled to be in San Luis Obispo soon to discuss the possibilities.
People are losing their jobs and their houses, even in this county. Not everyone will be able to find an apartment or house to rent, or even be able to afford a motor home. This simply means more homeless in our shelters and on our streets. We are in denial if we don’t realize this is the likely scenario for some time to come.
People who have been stripped of their livelihoods are often angry and depressed. They may become future Occupiers. Some may become thieves just to meet their basic needs. Or worse.
I believe this is a caring county in many respects, and I have seen many expressions of goodwill and charity firsthand in my home community of Cambria.
It is better to be proactive with this problem of meeting basic human needs locally than to see it escalate and ruin the touted quality of life we generally take for granted. We can get through this recession/depression but not by ignoring the signs and symptoms on our very streets.
William L. Seavey is an advocate, author and investment counselor. He formerly served as assistant program coordinator for The Junction, a socialization program for the homeless in Pasadena. Some of his work can be seen at http://thecoolestideas.com; email firstname.lastname@example.org.