San Luis Obispo County has a serious problem with homelessness and you can do something about it.
Homelessness is actually a far bigger problem locally than anyone wants to admit. The fact that 2,357 people were homeless this January was reported in many places. So was the fact that the number of homeless people increased by 3 percent since 2011. What wasn’t reported was that only 10 percent of our homeless were in shelters or how we compare to other communities.
Most people think of New York City, Los Angeles County and San Francisco as having the worst homeless problems in the nation. Yes, they have more homeless people than SLO County, but they also have larger populations. The sad fact is that a higher percentage of our population is homeless than the residents of NYC, San Francisco or L.A. County.
Locally, 0.87 percent of the population was homeless in the last count. That equates to one out of every 115 SLO county residents. San Francisco had a slightly lower rate of homelessness than us, with 0.85 percent of its population homeless. NYC and LA County had far lower rates at only 0.77 percent and 0.58 percent, respectively.
With only 10 percent of our homeless in shelters, we had 2,122 people living on the street, behind bushes and in their cars. This was the third highest rate of unsheltered homeless in the nation. It is also a very high number for a community of our size. For comparison, while NYC has 30 times our total population, its unsheltered homeless population was 3,180 people, or less than 50 percent higher than ours.
You can help
From these statistics, it is clear that SLO County desperately needs more emergency shelters, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Addressing our homeless problem will take lots of time and lots of work, but there are two things that you can do right now to help.
The first is to open your wallets and donate to one of the many local groups that provide shelter and services for the homeless. These include:
CAPSLO (http://www.capslo.org )
El Camino Homeless Organization (http://www.echoshelter.net )
5 Cities Homeless Coalition (http://www.5chc.org)
Transitional Food and Shelter (http://www.nowheretogo.com)
Hope’s Village (http://www.hopesvillageofslo .com)
SLO Food Bank (http://www.slofoodbank.org)
There are many other local groups that will benefit from your generosity.
The second thing that you can do today is ask the Board of Supervisors and your City Council to support building the new shelter in San Luis Obispo. Commit to support them — now and during the next election — if they will support building the proposed shelter on South Higuera Street now.
Moving the shelter to a “better location” isn’t really an option. No matter where it’s proposed, there will always be opposition. The shelter also needs to be built now because a $1 million state grant is at risk. If that grant is lost, people will be without shelter for at least two to three more years.
Jerry Rioux is executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Housing Trust Fund.