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.
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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.”
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.
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.