Report gives glimpse of who we are in San Luis Obispo County

San Luis Obispo County residents are overwhelmingly white, yet worried about racism. One in four of them spend half their monthly income on housing. Half are overweight. One-third of their children are enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch programs in schools. Their kids are truant at a consistently higher rate than other California schoolchildren.

These are among the mountain of factoids in a 413-page report released recently by Action for Healthy Communities, a collaborative of public agencies and private organizations. It is the group’s fifth report and first since 2006.

The organization conducted telephone interviews with 1,100 randomly selected residents, mined secondary data sources and conducted in-person surveys of some people, such as the homeless and non-English speakers.

The conclusions are a grab bag of facts and figures designed to help community leaders make policy decisions about homelessness, education, community health, public safety and other issues.

The report “provides information to raise awareness of trends, emerging issues, areas of improvement and areas where more effort is needed to improve the quality of life” in the county, according to a report to the Board of Supervisors from Leslie Brown of the county administrator’s office.

“Two takeaways that stand out for me,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, “(are that) the issues of greatest concern are jobs and homelessness.

“These are two areas that I have been putting a lot of effort into,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune.

“We are moving forward on the proposed homeless services center and other related issues to homelessness.”

The full report can be accessed at the county’s website. Among the highlights:

One-third of those surveyed by phone believed alcohol and drug abuse were “very serious” problems at their child’s high school.

There was a 50 percent increase in expulsions and a 71 percent increase in suspensions in county schools between the 2004-05 and 2008-09 school years.

The percentage of residents who were binge drinking in 2007 was higher than in California as a whole — 34 percent compared to 30 percent.

While 84 percent had health insurance, that number is down from 89 percent in 2006, and 53 percent of Spanish-speaking parents are uninsured.

The majority of residents — 71 percent — are white, 22 percent of the population is Hispanic, 3 percent Asian and the rest, including African-Americans, are so numerically negligible that the survey did not tally them.

One-third of residents are “very concerned about racism in their communities.” There were 13 hate crimes in 2009.

The number of domestic violence calls dropped 32 percent from 2001 to 2009.

From 2003 to 2009, there was a 20 percent increase in the number of people living in poverty, and half of those who answered the survey said they were worse off this year than they were last year. The most important issue to them, they said, is jobs.

Community leaders have pledged to use the report as a basis for making decisions about the county’s future.