We never expected SLO County’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness to actually deliver on that promise. Here’s what we said back in 2009, when the plan was introduced: “Even in the best of times, trying to develop the additional housing and support services to achieve such a utopian goal would be near impossible.”
However, we saw the plan as an encouraging first step in “a coordinated effort to close some of the yawning gaps in services for the homeless.”
But nearly five years into that 10-year plan, it’s discouraging that we seem even farther from that goal. In the most recent homeless census conducted early this year, the number of people in SLO County who were living in shelters, on the streets, in cars and abandoned buildings was up 3 percent since 2011.
On top of that, efforts to provide additional emergency shelter beds and other homeless services have stalled, due in large part to neighborhood opposition.
The county Board of Supervisors, however, gave its preliminary blessing last week to a program that could dramatically improve the lives of 50 of the county’s most vulnerable homeless residents.
Under the proposal, program participants will be provided with Housing Authority vouchers good for permanent housing, such as apartments and other subsidized units. And here’s the key: They also would be provided with case managers who would link them to counseling, medical care, mental health services and other assistance.
The county will request proposals from nonprofit organizations interested in providing case managements services. The board also directed staff to look at the possibility of providing some of those services “in house.”
The cost of the program — and sources of funding — have yet to be determined, though it’s expected that Medi-Cal will cover medical and mental health expenses.
We fully support the endeavor, though we recognize that even this goal of getting 50 homeless individuals into permanent homes is ambitious. If the program succeeds in assisting even 25 or 30 chronically homeless people, though, it will have a huge ripple effect, since it’s well documented that a relative handful of transients often account for a disproportionate number of calls for emergency services, hospital visits, court costs, etc.
For example, in August The Tribune reported that 10 chronic offenders in the city of San Luis Obispo — most of them homeless — collectively owed $122,889 in criminal fines for misdemeanors such as trespassing, being drunk in public and possessing open containers of alcohol. One man had been arrested 164 times over the course of a year.
Providing housing and case management for the chronically homeless should be cost-effective in the long run. While it won’t do away with the need for homeless shelters and other emergency aid, it is a way to take care of some of the most needy and vulnerable among us, including some who are ill and elderly.
It won’t put an end to homelessness, but it will be another step down that road.