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Homelessness in San Luis Obispo

A shopping cart with a “Homeless and Hungry” sign written by a homeless person in SLO. Photo by Mart Production

In 2022, homelessness remains a challenge for the city of San Luis Obispo. 

In many cases, persons unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic have no shelter, little to eat, and many are in need of medical attention.

The San Luis Obispo County Homeless Census & Survey Comprehensive Report, which is normally released every year, has not been updated since 2019 because of the pandemic. Therefore, the exact number of homeless people in the city of San Luis Obispo is unknown.

The last count (2019) reported 400 people living without shelter in the city of San Luis Obispo. That number, which represents approximately 1% of the population, compares with the national average of 2%, according to a U.S. Government survey conducted in 2021.

Infographic of last San Luis Obispo County survey. Photo by www.slocity.org

In response, the San Luis Obispo Police Department has created the Community Action Team (CAT) to help direct the homeless to available resources in the city.

The role of CAT is to identify problems and crimes that affect the residents of San Luis Obispo. They work with Transitions-Mental Health Association (THMA) to develop strategies to address many of the issues around homelessness. 

The 40 Prado Road Homeless Services Center provides 100 beds for individuals in need. They provide meals, showers, medical care, and more. 

Homelessness can occur for a number of reasons. The loss of a job, medical expenses, and mental or physical conditions can all be contributing factors to the problem. Homelessness is a complex issue and can be caused by economics, lack of family ties, lack of affordable housing, drug abuse, as well as alcoholism. 

“The experience of homelessness compounds many of those traumas and can exacerbate issues due to lack of personal safety and security,” said Kelsey Nocket, homeless response manager of 40 Prado Homeless Services Center.

The El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), located in Atascadero, provides up to 50 beds and offers programs such as housing placement, showers, and meals.

Among the opportunities for counties to get additional funding for homelessness are programs such as the American Rescue Plan Act, California’s CARE Court, and others. Voters are essential in supporting initiatives for funding.

“We have obviously known that there has been an uptick in people who are experiencing homelessness,” said Bettina Swigger, CEO of Downtown SLO. “And that affects our district.”

A homeless person living on the streets of SLO. Photo by Andrea Bateman

In an effort to find solutions for those without a shelter to call home, building a community of low-cost, tiny homes could be a step in the right direction.

“The pandemic has increased the homeless crisis,” Rachel Showalter of KCBX said in her March 2022 article on the Tiny home village proposal. “The reasons vary, but the overall solution may lie with low-cost housing.” 

This plan for San Luis Obispo could help solve homelessness and provide communities with small homes for those in need.

The city of San Luis Obispo recognizes the continual challenge of homelessness. To address this issue, they have partnered with several organizations such as the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO) for assistance. San Luis Obispo has provided funding for job training and a multitude of other support programs. In December 2020, the City Council approved $300,000 to address issues related to homeless.

The message is similar to those on the streets. 

“All I’m trying to do is get housed,” said Denise Flores, a 60-year-old woman who sleeps near the library in downtown SLO. “I shouldn’t be on the streets.”

On April 19, 2022, the City Council met to discuss homelessness prevention and assistance. Among the 12 items on the agenda: an allocation of $1.7 million in Affordable Housing Funds to HASLO for the Anderson Motel, and $300,000 to Transitions Mental Health Association (THMA) for Palm Street Studios. 

There are also plans to meet regarding the 2022-2023 Supplemental Budget to support the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and to allocate funds for affordable housing projects.

Here are some ways to help:

  • 5 Cities Homeless Coalition: (805) 574-1638 x 116 or email info@5chc.org
  • Salvation Army SLO: (805) 544-2401
  • United Way: dial 211 within SLO county for assistance
  • California Rural Legal Assistance: (805) 544-7994