"Homelessness Can Afflict Anyone"
… is something I firmly believe. To me those words are more than just a cute or catchy statement: they are a statement of fact. I know them to be true. I’ve seen the proof.
I have met a wide diversity of people who have become afflicted by homelessness. Some are currently homeless. Others have been homeless at sometime in their lives. They come from all walks of life. They span the entire spectrum of age, gender, religious beliefs, political affiliations, educational backgrounds and everything else in between.
What has caught me by surprise is that homeless doesn’t afflict only people.
Case in point –
In southern San Luis Obispo County, the People’s Kitchen is a non-profit organization that provides meals to that area’s homeless population. Right now, however, the organization itself doesn’t have a "home" of its own. While this homeless support service organization isn’t exactly homeless, they are what can be termed as "precariously housed" or "couch homeless" (to use the vernacular).
The People’s Kitchen, has been providing services to the area homeless for over 15 years, operating from a location in Grover Beach, California. Due to complaints from their "neighbors" who didn’t like that the people who were being helped had unsavory appearances, The People’s Kitchen had to move to another location to continue providing meals to the homeless.
They moved to the First Assembly of God Church, located at 946 Rockaway in Grover Beach. Unfortunately, after two years at this new location, their new neighbors also had complaints regarding the "clientele" that the People’s Kitchen was serving. These complaints created enough of a ruckus at City Hall, that they were asked to move locations again. This time, local government cited zoning laws and said that People’s Kitchen was operating similar to a restaurant, and since the church was located in a residential area, a permit to conduct a business in that neighborhood could not (and would not) be issued.
People’s Kitchen was given a date by which they would have to cease providing meals at the church. As the date neared, they were granted an extension. As the extension date neared, they were, again given an extension: January 31st, 2008.
Although I’ve never had to use the services provided by People’s Kitchen, I know a number of homeless who have. As a result, I’ve tried to keep a close watch on this situation since southern SLO County does not have a homeless shelter.
For area homeless, People’s Kitchen is often times the only place where they can get a meal. It seemed to me that were People’s Kitchen forced to shut down, it could potentially prove to be disastrous – not only for the homeless, but for the rest of the community. A person who has no place to get a meal could easily find themselves having to commit an actual crime to feed themselves.
All that aside, January 31st has come and gone and People’s Kitchen is no longer serving meals to the homeless from the Rockaway location. They’ve moved to a location on 16th Street and Longbranch Avenue. The space they are operating out of is part of a SLO County owned building and is a temporary solution at best. Their lease with the county is good for only three months, with three potential one month extensions. At most, People’s Kitchen has 6 months in which to find another location.
People’s Kitchen is hoping to find a permanent location in an industrial area to avoid creating friction between themselves and their "neighbors." Yet, although I haven’t taken a poll in southern SLO County, I’m willing to bet a Big Mac and a Diet Coke that no matter where People’s Kitchen opens its doors there will inevitably be someone who is going to complain. The reason? People’s Kitchen clientele: persons who are homeless. And, the reality is that the majority of people simply don’t want homeless people around.
Most cities and townships erroneously believe that the solution to homelessness is to drive the homeless somewhere else. Sadly, that seems to be the goal of most municipalities: do whatever is necessary to make the homeless leave town. It doesn’t matter that if the homeless did go somewhere else they would still be homeless. No, they just want them gone.
Subsequently, more and more local governments are adopting and passing laws and ordinances that penalize and criminalize homeless people for performing life sustaining activities in public. Yet, studies have shown that these "strong arm" tactics do nothing to actually reduce the numbers of homeless in any given area. The homeless adapt and life goes on.
According to the Homeless Enumeration Report, issued in the Spring 2006, there were at the time of the report, 2,408 persons who were homeless in San Luis Obispo County.
On page 10 of the report, the "Primary Results Table" shows that, at the time of the report, there were 781 homeless persons in southern San Luis Obispo County. That number represents 32.4% of the county’s homeless population.
The report itself, on page 9, openly states that the 2,408 persons who were actually counted do not represent the total number of homeless in the county. Regarding the 2,408, it says,
"What percentage of the total homeless population this represents is not known. But this figure is certainly an underestimate, given the fact that some homeless individuals avoided being counted."
… then further down,
"There were more men than women who are homeless but the stereotypical ‘face of homelessness’ has changed from a single male to families.
Homelessness today is a family issue and a children’s issue."
… and finally,
"Given the wealth of San Luis Obispo County this is nothing less than a tragedy."
It seems odd to me that an organization the provides services to the homeless, is itself somewhat homeless. More than that it saddens me that in that part of SLO County, they are the only homeless support service organization. Why? Because no one wants to provide the funding for such organizations. And, the reason we don’t fund such programs is because we don’t want the homeless to have it "too easy." We are satisfied to close our ears and our hearts to their cries for compassion.
Although the Homeless Enumeration Report used the phrase,
"… nothing less than a tragedy."
… to me it is nothing less than a crime that instead of using some of the "wealth of San Luis Obispo county" to find viable and remedial solutions to help those homeless who truly want to be free of life on the streets, we are content to withhold funding to those agencies and organizations that could make a difference.
Here are some links to what’s been going on with the People’s Kitchen: