Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Volunteers helping homeless

The recently-published count of the homeless population in this county found approximately 3,750 homeless people. This is undoubtedly an undercount, since many people are reluctant to come forward and identify themselves as homeless. Nevertheless, the count indicates the continuing existence of a serious problem. In San Luis Obispo alone, 1,309 persons were counted, 500 of whom were children.

This problem is addressed by several local nonprofit organizations. Services to the homeless are provided by Community Action Partnership Homeless Services (CAPSLO), run by the tireless Dee Torres and her crew. It staffs and operates the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter and the Prado Day Center and its associated case workers. There is also the People’s Kitchen and the Friends of Prado, as well as numerous local churches.

Community volunteers are a large component of the services these organizations provide. For example, the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter, which is well past its sell-by date, serves nearly 60,000 meals per year and does not even have a kitchen. The meals are provided by community organizations and individuals who actually prepare the food, bring it to the shelter and serve it to the homeless people.

The People’s Kitchen, which is rapidly approaching its millionth meal served, is run entirely by volunteers and has no paid staff. Similarly, the Friends of Prado, tireless fundraisers for the homeless, is made up of volunteers.

In addition, local churches provide shelter for the overflow clients of the Maxine Lewis Memorial Center on a monthly, rotating basis and provide volunteers from their congregations to act as chaperones.

Then, there is the work of the nameless and faceless homeless case workers. These people interact individually with homeless persons and their families. They attempt to get people connected with services that they need.

Amazingly, case workers often get homeless people and families into housing and on the road to putting their lives back in order. These case workers have numerous success stories that are seldom publicized. It is truly amazing that these case workers can get people off the street and into housing during these difficult economic times in a community that does not have an excess of housing.

Finally, the population of this county provides surprising financial support for these organizations. The county has revealed that the large majority of local homeless people have been residents of this county for more than five years. That means that these people are our neighbors and part of our community. Perhaps this is the reason for the widespread compassion and humanity of our community towards the homeless.

We face another challenge to deal with this problem. CAPSLO has undertaken a campaign to raise capital to build a new homeless services center on property donated by San Luis Obispo County on Prado Road. This will be a utilitarian, spartan building that will replace the rather dilapidated Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter and will combine all the homeless services in one location. This will undoubtedly serve the homeless and homeless families more efficiently. CAPSLO has also undertaken the job of overseeing the construction of the new facility. This will be an enormous job, but based on the past outpouring of goodwill toward this cause, it will get done.

If anyone wants to donate money to CAPSLO for homeless persons, they should designate their contribution for “homeless services” or for the “homeless service center” when mailing donations to: Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, 1030 Southwood Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, Attn: Marci Sperlo.

It’s too bad that everyone cannot see the effect that getting into housing has on a homeless family. The glimmer of hope that is provided by shelter works amazing changes in these families. That is not surprising, after all, since hope is a powerful force. James M. Duenow is a longtime homeless advocate and a resident of San Luis Obispo.