Yesterday morning as I was sitting at my favorite McDonald’s working on a small project I currently have.
Sometime around 1:45AM this morning there was a soft noise that woke me up. It was raining. Lightly, but it was raining nonetheless. I don’t know why but I sat up to look outside and confirm that it was indeed raining. And, of course, it was.
As I lay back down into as comfortable a position as possible, I couldn’t help wonder how many of San Luis Obispo’s homeless weren’t able to get a bed at the shelter last night.
Even now as I write this morning post it’s still raining. The rain is falling heavier now than it was earlier this morning when the sound woke me up.
In about another hour or so, the bus stop closest to the homeless shelter will become crowded with the homeless. Most of them will "cram" themselves into the small "weather shelter" there to try and stay out of the rain. They’ll catch the 7:30AM route 3 bus, ride downtown to the transit center and transfer to the #2 route which will take them over to the day center – all in an attempt to stay out of the rain.
In this part of California, come winter, it rains. So those who have been homeless in this area for a while have basically known what to expect. They been trying to "weatherproof" their little camps against the rain, so that in the event they aren’t able to get into the shelter at least they’ll be able to stay relatively dry on rainy nights. Those who have found themselves becoming homeless just recently didn’t. And, if they didn’t get into the shelter last night had to try and find somewhere to be out of the rain.
Regardless of all of that, wet weather drives the homeless to the shelter. With roughly some 300 homeless just in SLO city alone and only 49 beds at the shelter and an additional 20 to 25 beds at the overflow facility for women and children, there are quite a few who have to sleep out of doors. There’s just no way around it. Those homeless who cannot get a bed at the shelter are going to find places to sleep: behind buildings, in doorways, bus shelters, in empty lots under bushes, etcetera.
It’s actually irrelevant that the community doesn’t want them sleeping in these places. And it certainly doesn’t matter that the city has ordinances that make it "illegal" to do so. There are certain universal truths that no man made law and no government can supersede: people must sleep. The human body requires it. That’s just the way biology works.
Rather than foolishly spending taxpayer dollars to have the police department writing tickets to those homeless who they find "camping" out (which the homeless cannot afford to pay in any case), or taxpayer dollars on arresting, processing and jailing those who do get tickets for camping out and don’t pay (because they can’t afford to pay the fines in the first place), it would seem to me that the city would just put more resources into adding more shelter beds. And to tell you the truth, it would actually be less expensive in the long run.
I’m sure that there are some who are going to argue that adding additional beds or providing additional homeless services will only increase the numbers of homeless by drawing them from other areas. But the truth is that the numbers of homeless have been on the increase despite the lack of beds – with the majority of the increase of homeless being "locals" and not "out-of-towners."
Of course, the local politicians will argue that there just aren’t enough dollars in the city budget to provide for additional shelter beds. But, I’ve seen some of the things that this city has spent taxpayer dollars on – a good deal of which was superficially cosmetic. I’m not impressed. The city would have gotten a better return on investment had the dollars been spent on additional homeless services.
About 6 or 7 months ago, in one of my posts I offered my services to the SLO City Council. I said that anytime they wanted to meet with me to discuss ways of helping reduce the numbers of homeless in our community, I’d make myself available. I believe I even said that it would only cost them a cup of coffee and perhaps a donut or two.
Of course, I’m seeing things differently – now I’d have to get a least a cup of hot chocolate, since seldom drink coffee anymore, unless it’s decaf. As for the donuts, don’t need them.
But my offer still stands: I’m willing to meet with the City Council to discuss ways of helping reduce the numbers of homeless in our community. On top of that, I’m willing to bet that any potential suggestion I have would be as valid, if not more so, than any solution this City has come up with thus far.
Why do I believe this?
Simple. I’ve lived through it. I know what it’s like. I’ve seen what members of our community can do when they allow themselves to be motivated by mercy, compassion and understanding rather than prejudice and misconceptions.
Who better than a person who has experienced homelessness knows what it will take to help others become non-homeless?
Anyway, SLO City Council members – you can find my email address rather easily. It’s over there in the side column of this page.