Be Prepared

Posted: January 22, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Politics

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.

  1. A Grandmother says:

    As I was pulling the covers over me last night, I thought of your writing, and the predicament/disability of so many. Although I am currently still renting my room ( can’t afford an entire unit anymore) and working fulltime (for better than average wage around SLO), I don’t even think of patting myself on the back.

    There seems to be the possibility of being on the street or in the car looming closer all the time. Now, the media forecasts higher rents because of the demand on the housing market increasing from all the foreclosures. The need is exploding for affordable housing, and you’re right, there has to be a plan, and implementation.

    Thank you for your insight and writing. I’ll continue making plans for my precarious future. Hope and Peace to those who have little now.

  2. Arla FisherMattinson says:

    I stayed my first night in the overflow in San Luis Obispo with my son. Before we had gone to the over flow we had to meet at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter and there were only maybe 50-65 people who were there to check in. I saw 6 families including myself. Pizza had been donated for dinner that night and they do accommodate you with bedding if needed. I waited in a small area for about 2 hours with another family who had been staying there for months and had 3 children one of them a baby. The father works and they had a vehicle but it made me so sad to sit there and see this family in need while i was sitting there in need too. We later went to the overflow which was one of the local churches and i was not allowed to go to my car once checked in. My keys were taken from me because there have been issues with parents doing drugs in their car while their children were sleeping. I was in dis-belief that some parents are so careless. They provided cereal and milk for the kids and coffee for the adults. They turned out the lights at 9pm and woke us up at 6am and we were not allowed to leave without completing a chore fist. Unfortunately i was up all night because the “Cots” that we were sleeping on were very uncomfortable. I just wanted to share my stay with you.

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