Support housing the homeless, not a giant shelter

May 19, 2014


Editor’s Note: Following San Luis Obispo Councilman Dan Carpenter proposing rapid re-housing for the homeless and a rehab of the current homeless shelter John Spatafore, Sandee Menge, Paul Wolff and Councilman John Ashbaugh voiced their support of a large propose homeless center in the Tribune.

Dear Sandee Menge, John Ashbaugh., Paul Wolff and John Spatafore:

Please consider this a reply to your May 18th viewpoint in The Tribune, and know that I speak straight from my heart. I am a fifty year resident of SLO and long-time advocate for un-housed people. For many years, I worked with those who were ineligible for homeless services, referred them to agencies who could help, and provided food, clothing, and sleeping bags to those unable to get their own.

I am ashamed that I’ve been passive for far too long and have not spoken up for what I know to be ‘right.’

Hearing firsthand how so many un-housed people were being banned from utilizing local homeless services, we founded Hope’s Village of SLO. We are a 501(c)(3) public charity California corporation with an outstanding board of directors and team of volunteers dedicated to opening a sustainable community village for local un-housed adults in the near future. Our site will be on ten acres of permanent land outside SLO City limits and will operate under an organized group camp permit authorized by the Environmental Health Department. It will serve as a model for the rest of the state and nation.

Every one of the villagers will work to help build the common house and tiny cabins; they’ll help maintain the village, and earn their keep. We are convinced that we are a nation addicted to welfare – when you give people something for nothing, they don’t learn how to do, they learn how to take.

You may have read about HV in the papers, seen it on TV, or heard us on the radio. Through our “RV’s for Veterans” program, we have connected donors of 25 RV’s with local homeless veterans – no money exchanges hands. More of our un-housed veterans are now out of the bushes, off the streets and in their own safe homes on wheels. We’ve received calls from all over the country about the program. It’s simple and successful – watch for more “RV’s for Veterans” programs popping up.

After reading your piece in this morning’s paper about the new emergency shelter (homeless services center) fulfilling vital needs, I have concerns:

* I’ve read through the “SLO Countywide Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness” more than once. I see no homeless people on any committees. If this is the case, would you please explain how you know what homeless people need to be successful in life if they’re not brought into the discussion? Many are very savvy people and have great suggestions. None of them long for a new shelter;

* We hear conflicting stories about actual housing through case management. Could you please provide us with statistics regarding exactly how many people have been housed through case management, and of those housed, what is their retention rate?

* We have heard from homeless services staff that it takes approximately 18 months to get a homeless person into (transitional or permanent) housing. Can you please verify?
*I have had personal discussions with three homeless veterans who live in the creek that they have been promised housing for years from case management, but it has not come through; They know who their case workers are – why have these men (and so many others like them) not received housing?

* You list several providers in your viewpoint where ‘housing comes first;’ doesn’t TMHA offer mostly temporary/transitional housing? We know People’s Self-Help Housing is for those who have good income and can make the mortgage payments; the SLO Housing Authority tends to house several people in one apartment – something most veterans cannot handle with various mental issues; the local Veterans’ Service Office on Grand Avenue provides VASH vouchers to homeless veterans, but some are unable to locate housing and therefore, they refer veterans to us that they cannot assist; isn’t most of the housing provided in SLO to homeless people considered transitional and thus temporary?

* We see ads in The Tribune each week asking for peanut butter, coffee, towels, etc. for Prado and MLM; if these needs can’t be filled now, how will these needs be taken care of with a new bigger shelter? Isn’t it “unrealistic” to expect donors in the community to keep providing these basic items?

* We’ve all heard different monetary figures for the building and maintenance of the new shelter — that it will cost approximately $1,000,000 a year to run — where will this money come from?

* We live in the ‘real world.’ We know that many homeless people cannot “move toward self-sufficiency…” which is a big part of CAPSLO/Prado/MLM’s mission. Many homeless neighbors of ours will never fit into ‘normal’ society – perhaps they never did. They will never have a nine to five job, nor get large enough raises in their Social Security or disability incomes allowing them to cover rent and other living expenses. Not everyone belongs on aid. Who will help these people into housing?

*As of June 1, people who try to access shelter/food/water/showers/phone use/laundry privileges, bus passes, etc. at Prado/MLM and have been using or drinking (and cannot seem to stop) will be unable to use the shelters. Where will these people go? Who will help them get into housing?

*If the new shelter is “the right thing to do,” why aren’t other towns building big new shelters? HUD, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the National Coalition for Homeless and dozens of other organizations’ studies all point to housing first, not shelter first.

* We’ve seen our federal government shut down twice in the past 13 years. How much longer do you they will be able to bankroll efforts to ‘end/reduce homelessness’ when as of 5:00am this morning, our national debt is $17 trillion and rising?

* And this fact, of course, begs the question: Is it really the government’s responsibility to provide housing for everyone?

* I see no mention of the new homeless services center in the “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness” — could you please point to page and paragraph where new service center is mentioned?

* You state in your viewpoint that it’s unrealistic to expect the faith based community to help. I was told by one long-time local pastor that upon opening, he had to sign an agreement with the City of SLO promising to not allow homeless people to park their RV’s in the church’s parking lot. Is this true?

* It is common knowledge that shelters are Band-Aids – revolving doors. The same people in and out. How will the new center be different?

* This new shelter will provide job security for many local career folks, and some careers in this region are based on the status quo. This may be a crude thought, but are we thinking about the homeless here, or about others who will make their living off the homeless?

* If you build a big new service center, we all know that homeless people from other areas will come. Will you be able to prevent this?

* Since the new service center will be partially funded by government grants, will you be able to give priority to local homeless people, or will you have to allow everyone to utilize the center regardless of their city of origin?

* Currently, the only soup kitchen in SLO is the People’s Kitchen at Prado/MLM. We’ve heard talk about relocating the kitchen so all homeless people have access (at least) to food. Is this true?

* If you’ve been banned from utilizing Prado/MLM, your option to eat is to come to the gate between 11 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to get a ‘sack lunch.’ (It’s a worry to us because many times, people don’t even have bus fare to get to Prado from where they are trying to be invisible from local law enforcement and thus get sleep). Is this still the case, and if so, will this plan change with the new service center?

* How many volunteers do you think it will take to cover the needs of a big new service center when the number of SLO’s homeless increases?

* Your article states that the new center will be open 24/7 — will there be jobs or duties for those utilizing services, or will the prior arrangement of People’s Kitchen providing three meals cooked by others and then served to the homeless be the norm?)

* I’ve worked as a volunteer at Prado – watched people come in, sign in, get their coffee and go outside to smoke. Will the new service center be different/better?

* If your child, sister, mother or grandfather or any family member fell on hard times and for whatever reason became homeless, would you want her in a shelter with 100 other homeless people or in her own tiny home (among others in their tiny homes) with personal space – all watching out for each other and working hard to regain their self-pride and dignity?

* According to your Viewpoint, the new service center will “fulfill vital needs” of those it deems eligible to participate. Past practices have seen people banned from the shelter for name calling (to staff or even to another client); for slamming down a receiver in the phone base upon hearing very upsetting news; for a homeless man who parked in the director’s spot just long enough to pick up a fellow homeless person; for carrying a plate of food outside the dining area, for yelling and swearing (a woman who is bipolar and has a dual diagnosis, was accused by staff of “not taking her meds” when, in fact, she needed new meds. The on-call psychiatrist at Mental Health, where she ended up for three days, prescribed new meds for her. Today she is safe, well, and acing her college classes – after being banned from Prado).

Since we all know that many homeless suffer a variety of mental health issues, why would staff ban these people forcing them out with no access to water, food, shelter, laundry/phone/mail service? Because they can’t handle them? We are told that the reason is because there are not enough staff to care for the numbers of homeless people they are trying to help now. What will happen when the numbers increase?

* You state in your Viewpoint that ‘without this facility …we’ll never achieve the county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. Is this really the goal? Because we already know (those of us who live in the ‘real world’) that many of these folks will never return to ‘sustainability.’

* Finally, whose needs will be fulfilled by the new service center?

People within your own group have different opinions than the ones stated above. Please – get together and talk. Be open and honest with each other. Have the courage and compassion that Dan Carpenter has to speak his mind and not go along with the majority or care about popularity. He speaks the truth because he knows firsthand. He’s been on the streets working with our homeless citizens for more years than I can count. He volunteers at overflow — he’s done far more for the homeless community than any other leader on the Central Coast.

Please educate yourself. Please think long and hard about spending such an exorbitant amount of (soft) money on a holding pen – because that is exactly what it is.

Go look at Prado today. Then go look in a year. Same faces. Sad faces.

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The shelter system is completely useless to many people who don’t have the means to find a market rental anywhere in southern California and it is essential to create affordable housing that rents on the order of $300 a month. Nothing else will suffice. In the meantime, stop treating the houseless so brutally it is so often like a totalitarian society from that perspective.

Housing people has everything to do with cost. If we could provide housing , like the elegant Villages, with all the wonderful amenities it would cost much more than government/the county, and afford. Housing for homeless people is important and we need to help as many people as we can. Group living is the cheapest and only way to go. Maybe someday it can change.

My story about my homelessness, my mental illness (chronic PTSD due to severe child maltreatment [which led to choosing partners with a propensity for domestic abuse] was recently in the Tribune. I have tried and tried to better my life, however, my mental illness impaired me so much that I was rarely able to do more than tread water). This last bout of homelessness came when the city condemned my illegal unit and I had to leave suddenly. I had no savings, and it was in the middle of my undergraduate finals. So, I went to live on the streets again. I had a laptop and completed my degree online at Starbucks. But, when I got housing with Transitions, I literally fell to the floor in prayer and gratitude for my studio apartment. And, that is not all I did: I also enrolled in graduate school. I have fixed up my place over the last 6 months, and have weekly psychotherapy for my PTSD. Things are so much better. For once in my life, I have hope. And you know what? All my life; all I wanted was for someone to care-to see that I am a person with needs and wants. It has been my lifelong dream to become educated. I never attended high school, and have always longed to have a career. Housing can make all your dreams come true when you are homeless…it can inspire you to reach for the stars.

The primary reason that the advocates for the homeless Xanadu wish to build it is to ensure funding and relevance in perpetuity. They have as much desire in ending homelessness as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson do in ending racism.

Mrs Jorgenson makes salient, logical point after point in the above letter. The homeless population in SLO will double the day after the doors open. Rename it Field Of Dreams, for if you build it, they will come and our town will never be the same.