Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Cutting through the blather

It is high time that someone responded to the blather that is being circulated concerning programs to serve the homeless and the nature of the homeless problem.

The prime source is one Becky Jorgenson, a self-designated “homeless advocate,” who has little, if any, training or experience in dealing with the homeless and the homeless problems in this area, other than working for a short time at the De Vaul Ranch.

Jorgenson would have us disband and get rid of all homeless services providers and facilities, such as the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter and the Prado Day Center and solve the problem of homeless merely by asking the generous people of San Luis Obispo to open their houses and take in a homeless person.

What she either does not know or neglected to say is that more than half of the homeless population in this area suffer from varying degrees of mental illness and many also suffer from substance abuse. There is also a significant percentage of homeless people who are children. It is unlikely that this solution is practical to a significant percentage of the homeless population.

Next, Jorgenson and her advocates have claimed that the county of San Luis Obispo is financing and building the homeless services center for which the capital campaign has just begun. This, of course, is totally false. CAPSLO (about which we will talk more later) is the nonprofit agency that is financing and building the new homeless services center, if it can be done, and the county’s only involvement is to provide a piece of excess unused property for lease to the project for $1 per year.

Finally, Jorgenson rather irrationally asserts that the police, both the city and county, the county health and safety officers and the county counsel’s office are engaging in a corrupt conspiracy to put Dan De Vaul out of business. As she alleges, the case is being heard by Judge Charles Crandall, who she also accuses of being biased and unfair.

The truth of the matter is that De Vaul has stubbornly refused to meet Health and Safety Code requirements and puts homeless people up on his property for $300 to $500 per month and does not even provide them with safe drinking water.

County officials have tried patiently to get him to conform, but he refuses. The county officials, the county counsel and especially Judge Crandall should be extolled, rather than criticized, for their patience and forbearance in dealing with the stubborn, recalcitrant De Vaul. Quite frankly, if I were the judge, he would be locked in chains and the key would be thrown away.

The truth of the matter is that the homeless problem in this county is being dealt with professionally and effectively by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, a nonprofit organization (CAPSLO). CAPSLO’s homeless director, the tireless and dedicated Dee Torres, and her staff operate the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter and the Prado Day Center. They serve perhaps 100,000 meals per year and provide the emergency beds per night every day of the year.

In addition, they have an outreach program to find and locate homeless people and to identify their needs. They have case workers who deal directly with the homeless and have quite a remarkable success rate in getting homeless people into housing and sometimes into gainful employment — in effect, restoring their lives. Finally, and most importantly, they often get the disabled and addicted homeless people connected with the services that can best deal with the individual person’s problems.

CAPSLO has taken the lead and will be the organization to oversee the financing and construction of the homeless service center. This center will provide services to the homeless in one location, which will be vastly more effective than the current fragmented attempts at delivery of services. This is the way they do it in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and other cities in the state with great success.

If you want to understand and help in dealing with the problem of homelessness, volunteer time, materials, food or money to CAPSLO. Volunteering time to some of their programs has prov-ed enormously satisfying to some families. Above all, don’t pay attention and certainly don’t be confused by the senseless blather that is on the airwaves and some of the print media concerning these problems.

James M. Duenow is a San Luis Obispo attorney.

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