There were two things I kept thinking about yesterday: the weather and SLO County’s need to formulate a 10 year plan to end homelessness as per Federal mandate.
The weather was on my mind because the skies decided that we need to get wet during certain times of the day. One moment the skies would be clear and somewhat sunny, then it would sprinkle. But that’s just the way Mother Nature likes to do things. And of course, since what Mother Nature decides to do is what is going to be done despite our best efforts to second guess Her, we just have to live with it.
For the homeless, living with Mother Nature’s decisions requires adhering to the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
San Luis Obispo County’s need to devise a 10 year plan to end homelessness will also require being prepared. Unfortunately, it is the lack of preparedness which is partially at the root of the escalating numbers of homeless in this county. More specifically, it is the lack of preparedness which is the reason there are so many homeless who are forced to sleep out of doors in weather like we had yesterday.
Like I’ve pointed out so many times, according to SLO County’s 2006 Homeless Enumeration Report, there are 2408 persons in this county who are homeless. However, the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter in the city of SLO has only 49 beds at the shelter and between 20 and 35 additional beds at the "overflow facility" for women and children.
The reason the number fluctuates is that the "overflow facility" is space "donated" by local area churches. Since some churches are smaller (or larger) than other churches, which ever church is hosting the overflow facility for any given month will determine how many overflow beds are available.
The only other "homeless shelter" in SLO County is located in Atascadero (approximately 20 miles north of San Luis Obispo) and is operated by the El Camino Homeless Organization (a.k.a. ECHO).
The homeless facility that is run by ECHO is also space that is "donated" by one of the churches in Atascadero. From my understanding, they are only able to "house" about 30 or 35 people. Although, I’m sure that if necessary, they could probably squeeze in a few more.
If we add all three of the highest numbers together, we get 119. And, just to be a bit more liberal with the numbers, I’ll tag on an additional 15% which would allow for an additional 17.85 beds, which I’ll round up to 18. So, taking 119 actual beds and allowing for squeezing in additional 18 beds, we get a total of 137 beds. I’ll even be more generous and say that there are 140 beds. That will make it a round number.
Doing the math tells me that if there are 2408 homeless people in the county and only about 140 beds that 2268 (around 94.2%) of this county’s homeless will be forced to sleep out of doors on any given night of the year. To bring things down to their lowest common denominator: roughly only 1 in 20 of this county’s homeless will have a bed to sleep in tonight.
Thus far, the only solutions that have come from any of the governing bodies throughout the county regarding those homeless who must sleep out of doors because of the lack of available shelter beds has been for the police departments to issue tickets to any of the homeless who they find "camping out." Yet, these solutions have done nothing to reduce the numbers of homeless in this county. All that’s really been done is to create a class of "law breakers" from a segment of the community who have no other choice than to find a place to sleep.
It seems to me that if the County had put together a 10 year plan to end homelessness ten years ago, it could have been far more prepared to find a less expensive remedy at reducing the numbers of homeless in this county. Because of inflation, it will certainly be far more costly to implement a 10 year plan now. Additionally, over the next ten years the rate of inflation will undoubtedly increase. That in turn means that it will cost John Q. Public more to address finding a viable solution to homelessness in this area.
The next time you happen to see a homeless person walking down the street, trudging down the street under the weight of their backpack or pulling a piece of rolling luggage behind them, the odds are very high that that person will have to sleep outside tonight. Tomorrow night, their odds of sleeping in a bed aren’t all that great either.
When you crawl into your bed and pull the blankets up and around yourself tonight, just remember that there are over 2200 people who are going to be sleeping on the hard ground. Moreover, don’t be so ready to pat yourself on the back. If you’re in the working class, the odds are 1 in 5 that you will also find yourself homeless at one point or another in your life. And, if you happen to find yourself homeless in this county, it’s just about a 95% chance that you will have to sleep outside.
So, remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.