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South County leaders may form task force to improve services for the homeless

Here’s how SLO County counts its homeless population

San Luis Obispo County's Homeless Point-in-Time Homeless Census and Survey took place Jan. 30, 2017, to calculate the area's homeless population. Volunteers walked and drove around the county, recording any homeless individuals they saw.
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San Luis Obispo County's Homeless Point-in-Time Homeless Census and Survey took place Jan. 30, 2017, to calculate the area's homeless population. Volunteers walked and drove around the county, recording any homeless individuals they saw.

South County leaders are looking at a new way to streamline services to the area’s sizable homeless population: forming a regional task force that could mobilize quickly to coordinate efforts between cities, San Luis Obispo County and nonprofit agencies.

“It’s a really good development,” said Mike Byrd, 5 Cities Homeless Coalition board president. “It’s the only way we are going to be able to actually fix issues in the South County in a meaningful way. For years, people have been shuffled around the cities and very little has been able to be done to help them in a real, meaningful way. This is a great way to fix that.”

The task force would be composed of representatives from Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano and State Parks, and potentially the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition and the county’s Homeless Services Oversight Council. The group would meet twice a year or more as needed, depending on specific challenges that arise in the community.

It wouldn’t replace or offer services already provided via the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition or the county’s homeless services. Instead, it would act as an intermediary between the cities and those organizations to quickly address regional issues concerning South County’s homeless population.

206 Number of unsheltered homeless people living in South County in January 2015, according to San Luis Obispo County’s “Homeless Point In Time Census and Survey.”

One of the first items on the task force’s agenda would likely be finding a new home for next year’s warming center.

Each year, the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition hosts a warming shelter when there are storms or the temperature is expected to drop; the shelter acts as a place to go for the homeless individuals who are around South County on those nights.

For the past four years, the shelter has been held in a conference room at the county Department of Social Services office at 1086 Grand Ave. in Arroyo Grande. But beginning next year, the landlord has said the building will no longer be available to use as a shelter, so a hunt is underway for a replacement.

“We’re on the prowl,” Byrd said of the search. “Ideally, at some point, we would have something like other areas around the county have, permanent places for people to go year-round.”

The task force could also help coordinate any upcoming Mobile Assistance and Services Addressing Homelessness (MASH) events like one held in Grover Beach last year. MASH events offer a range of services to homeless individuals, from free showers and haircuts to replacing missing IDs, Social Security cards and birth certificates.

The Arroyo Grande City Council was among the first to solidify its spot on the task force Tuesday, appointing Councilwoman Kristen Barneich as its representative. According to a staff report, Grover Beach has expressed a strong commitment to joining the task force, though the matter has not been before the council at a regular meeting.

The proposal will now go before the other South County cities and agencies for consideration.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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