Homeless issues plague San Luis Obispo
January 14, 2015
OPINION BY COUNCILMAN DAN CARPENTER
Now in the seventh year of SLO County’s “10 year plan to end homelessness,” it can hardly be labeled as successful with more homeless residents in our community than ever before.
The continuum care approach of addressing homelessness promotes a linear model that suggests housing is the end result of an individual moving from streets to shelter, to transitional programs, or to permanent supportive housing. Housing is the prize at the end of the process for a client who can demonstrate compliance to service intense programs while very few resources are put into actual housing. In recent years, new models have emerged that challenge these assumptions.
Commonly referred to as “housing first,” this approach to rapid-rehousing abandons the linear model and puts housing at the front of the process, placing a person in housing first and then dealing with the service needs of the individual.
Empirical research supported by the U.S. Interagency on Homeless (USICH), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), indicates that the mere act of placement in housing produces a level of stabilization that allows the individual to address their other needs more effectively while eliminating the trauma and stigma typically associated with residency in a temporary shelter. A growing body of evidence in the mental and public health literature shows a dramatic improvement in health outcomes, residential stability, and cost to society when homeless people receive supportive medical and case management services while living in permanent affordable housing units.
Serious health problems are common among homeless persons, and shelter settings pose or exacerbate health risks for residents and service providers alike. The concept, linking health to housing, has been put forth by the federal government as a means to ending chronic homelessness and not simply managing it.
Virtually every major study has shown housing first ends homelessness for the most vulnerable homeless people faster, more often and more permanently than traditional, treatment-based approaches through temporary shelters. When the homeless are placed in housing quickly, 85 percent will never return to homelessness according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, making this approach the most effective solution to homelessness we’ve seen.
In contrast to less effective models through temporary shelters, programs such as Housing First do not force homeless people to complete or comply with treatment, mental health care, employment training, or other services in order to access and maintain permanent housing. Instead, it stabilizes people with housing, putting them in a better position to tackle other challenges.
Why then is CAPSLO in partnership with the Homeless Foundation of SLO County building a $4.5 million dollar temporary shelter on Prado Road? What additional resources will be needed to keep this metaphorical albatross sustainable? From my years of volunteer time in overflow shelters and weekly visits to the trenches (vehicles, creeks, or culverts), I can assure you the consensus is a strong desire is to be housed, not corralled in a state of the art shelter.
Most unhoused individuals and families want what everybody desires: a private, safe, clean, and quiet place to call their own. No one should have to process through a shelter of continuum care to earn the right to housing. Obviously, those that support the multi-million dollar shelter are ignoring the plea of those they claim to serve and the national trend towards an alternative approach to ending homelessness.
This new facility will become a mecca for the transient homeless whose pilgrimage is validated daily by our community of guilt-ridden enablers who ignore the benevolence of tough love. “Build it and they will come” takes on a whole new meaning as we become the most “homeless friendly” city in America. As we’ve seen an uptick in recent years, the fringe element and their challenging behaviors have already changed the conscientiousness of our community.
Recent weeks have exposed evidence of this. In early November, a transient allegedly punched a female employee in the face at the Flip Flop Shop on Higuera Street, and in late December a transient allegedly sexually assaulted a young woman in one of our public restrooms on Morro Street.
These mentally challenged individuals are typically the ones who are denied or resist access to the shelter and its programs. The new Prado Road mecca will illuminate a perception of “fair game” on our community by those who have lack of deference for the law, and rely on persistent panhandling.
If we’re serious about putting an end to homelessness as touted by so many leaders in our community, then (1) scrap the mecca shelter, (2) invest the $4.5 million or more into permanent rental housing, and a chemical dependency/mental health intensive inpatient facility, (3) consistently enforce the laws governing illegal behavior. Of course, your name won’t be on a shiny brass plaque outside a shelter on Prado Road, but you will have the peace of mind knowing that you genuinely provided dignity and compassionate care to the least of those among us.
On Jan. 20, your SLO City Council is poised to approve a funding agreement for the Homeless Services Center on Prado Road in the amount of $250,000. If you’d like your taxpayer dollars to be spent more humanely on our homeless residents, then please contact your elected representatives. You may contact me directly at (email@example.com) or (805-431-3174).
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