SLO has its priorities wrong. Helping the homeless should be #1

We appreciate the San Luis Obispo City Council’s recent legalization of tiny homes in SLO’s backyards. This will not help many of our unhoused folks, but it’s a start.

For many years, we at Hope’s Village have been trying to help the City Council understand the horrific conditions of numerous unhoused people in SLO who live on our streets, in the bushes and along the creek — especially our women, children and veterans. We try to explain that everyone needs income to get into housing, even subsidized housing. Not everyone can get Supplemental Security Income or State Disability Insurance or Veterans Administration benefits.

We have made personal appearances at City Council meetings, hosted presentations on tiny home villages, given more than 90 talks around the Central Coast and have written numerous communications citing what other cities are doing to help unhoused people.

We have advised what the laws are (and are not). We took Mayor Heidi Harmon to the creek. We hoped it would have an impact.

We asked the city to abolish the ordinance that allowed ticketing unhoused people for sleeping outside, since this is where they are forced to be — many through no fault of their own. Sleep is a human and civil right. To deprive someone is no less than torture. SLO has never provided enough shelter for our indigent — let alone enough housing. Now, thanks to a compassionate judge in Idaho, sleeping in public places is no longer illegal.

Please don’t believe for a moment that we’ve reduced homelessness in our area. There weren’t enough volunteers to cover all areas during the “Point In Time” homeless count two years ago, nor this year.

And please don’t think that many of our unhoused people in SLO are out-of-towners. We keep stats at our mobile shower program (the one we run because there are no public showers in SLO). Most of our guests are home-grown folks born and raised here in SLO County.

When City Hall can’t even list homelessness as a priority goal for the current, two-year budget cycle, why would anyone from out-of-town even want to come here for help?

Homelessness is (or should be) SLO’s biggest priority. Potlucks, coffee chats and newsletters won’t solve the problem. Nor will “hearty discussions.”

We explained to the city that when we open our model sustainable village, we’ll get 50 or more chronically unhoused people (who have little or no income) off the streets and into tiny safe and warm cabins on wheels.

We’ll save taxpayers $2 million on an annual basis, based on a Housing and Urban Development report. Our village will serve as a model for the rest of our county, state and nation to follow.

You’d think that when a group of volunteers comes forward to offer a viable solution to house more of our people, we’d be welcomed with open arms. Instead, we hear about the need for infrastructure for a village.

Yet we have no infrastructure in the downtown, to help people who are begging for food or sleeping in the corridors in the early morning hours, trying to stay warm (downtown SLO could very easily start to look like San Francisco). Or for the hundreds of people living along the creek with rats chewing at their tents, if they are lucky enough to have tents.

So imagine our surprise and dismay to learn that our unhoused people are not a priority of City Hall. Their basic human needs aren’t as important as bike baths and four-story hotels being built downtown, one with a pool on the roof. Priorities are askew here in SLO.

And while we want to believe (or hope) you care, it’s a huge slap in the face to those who work so hard at reducing homelessness in our town.

A slap to those of us who constantly go to encampments passing out sleeping bags, tents, tarps and food — in the rain — listening to their stories, trying to offer solutions, or hope. To all our volunteers who give up their Saturdays to run a mobile shower program, handing out clean clothes and offering hope to our folks who can’t go elsewhere to get clean, since SLO has no public showers and never has had. We’re doing the city’s job — on our dime and our time.

A local attorney recently said that the City Council is not serving the people. We are asking that you start, by putting aside your own priorities and listening to your constituents. In these crazy times we live in, let’s make SLO a town where we take care of our own who are down and out, not ignore them, or hope they will go away.

You were elected to do a job Please fulfill your stated mission and represent all the people of SLO — not just those who are housed and vote.

We can put SLO on the map again, and reduce homelessness in our town, in our time. And earn back that title of the happiest place on Earth.

Becky Jorgeson is the founder of Hope’s Village, a nonprofit working to provide housing and other services to homeless residents of San Luis Obispo.

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