Homeless issues plague San Luis Obispo

January 14, 2015
Dan Carpenter

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 (dcarpent@slocity.org) or (805-431-3174).

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Homelessness can be ended in a week.stop subsidizing it! Look at a supply/demand curve you government fools. More is created of whatever is subsidized. It’s Econ 101.

The more money you throw at homelessness, the more homeless there will be.


“A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization”, Dr. Samuel Johnson.


“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

King James Bible


Hypocrite !

Paul, in II Thessalonians 3:10 was referring to doing GOD’s work, and not to behave as the ‘disorderly’ that walk among you …those that DON’T do GOD’s work but are selfish to themselves.

In II Thessalonians 3:13, Paul states it even more emphatically:

“But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing”.

“You will be judged by how you treat the least of those among you” – Jesus


I prefer the literal interpretation.

As for hypocrisy: How many homeless do you take in to your home and feed per night?


By the way, I’m not a christian or a hypocrite. I was just answering your silly quote with another silly quote.


Got it. I quote one of the greatest literary geniuses and social critics of all time, in context; and you reply with a Biblical quote out-of-context, and apparently something you know little if anything about or understand.

You may indeed be one of those ‘disorderly’ , damned, and deceivable through strong delusion to believe a lie that Paul warned of in this same epistle.

That is your shame and cross to bear…. and being so, are more pitiable than the homeless you so despise.

I’ll ask Brother Ted to pray for your soul.


SF–there is actually somthing we agree about! Who knew?


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.



Isn’t fishing illegal in SLO?


good point.


Give a man a fish and he’ll smell like fish for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll smell like fish forever.


Same goes for constantly extended unemployment insurance. Statistics are irrelevant to those who govern.


No, statistics are irrelevant to those that RULE.

What do have against working people ?


Good article, Dan, with plenty of constructive thoughts.

The part I liked the most was your telling about your visits to the creek and other personal involvements among the dispossessed.

I never see ANY caseworkers in the field …the few that there may be could have their hands full, but in talking with a number of these ‘street’ people myself, they report that no one from social services ever visits. The only ‘officials’ to approach are commonly the cops, and it’s not often friendly.

Could you ask around and see if anyone is actually doing this job ( or supposed to be ) ?


There is one part time nurse that I am aware of who goes under bridges, into the creek, down to Prado, etc to help our true homeless in need. Many of the homeless are mentally ill and not medically managed; some are elderly, and others are an entire family with complex issues.

Some of these homeless sleeping in the creek are not allowed to go to Prado or the shelters, so staff are tasked with tracking down the “sickest” and “neediest” to help get them to the doctor, make sure they have their medications, that those who desire help can actually get help.

Some things that most of us take for granted, such as filling out medical forms, applications for assistance at social services, etc, cannot be done by some of our homeless. Some are developmentally delayed. Some are too mentally ill. Others are just elderly and cannot see well or grip a pen.

SLO County’s problem is that they have too many Generals and not enough soldiers. The few highly paid people at the top ruin the reputation of the very hard working grunts at the bottom.


One model our communities have not looked at is the one from People Serving People…you should Google it, so should CAPSLO. The assist people with housing first, provide job training, daycare, and health care. It is run by a non-profit out of a renovated hotel that can house up to 300 families. People are able to achieve stability and transition to their own housing with assistance; assistance which leads to independence. Our model needs to change. We are not helping the problem—our current services in the county are not meeting the needs of the people who are in need. Sure they have shelters at night, but they are put back on the streets during the day. This provides no structure or stability so desperately needed.


LeAnn says “Sure they have shelters at night, but …”

I wish that was true, LeAnn, but less than 10% of the homeless in SLO County have shelter at night. The vast majority sleep on the streets, behind the bushes and in their vehicles. HUD reported that we had the third highest rate of unsheltered homeless in the nation in 2013.

I totally agree with you that our model needs to change. However, I think that providing a bed, bathing facilities, food and access to services for a few more of our homeless is one step in the right direction.


Unlisted—I did not state anywhere that ALL people have a place to go at night. Unless we change our model, the things you want in place will not happen—government does not know how to fix this, change it, or mitigate it; our current model proves that. And while TMHS is doing something, their model is also limited because they are only focusing on the 50 neediest. How do you define neediest when it comes to having no home or no resources in order to improve your circumstances?

The People Serving People model is all encompassing and works to affect lasting change.


Contrary to what you say, the People Serving People model is NOT “all encompassing.”

The People Serving People model is “a FAMILY-FOCUSED shelter” for homeless children and their parents. Most of PSP’s residents are children. Since 56% of the homeless in Minneapolis (Hennepin County) are in families, the PSP model is a perfect match for that community.

It’s not so perfect for SLO County since less than 20% of our homeless are in families. Because of this, more than 80% of our homeless would be excluded from the People Serving People model. That’s not much better than our current model, which we both agree must be changed.

I think we need to try multiple approaches to address the varied needs of different groups within our homeless population. Some think that there’s a magic bullet that will solve our homeless problem. I think they are dreaming.

More money is needed to tackle our homeless problems – and not all of it to CAPSLO and their shelter. While HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) Program provided $8.4 million in FY13-14 for the homeless in Minneapolis (Hennepin County), SLO County received less than $1 million. There are, of course, other homeless funds, but CoC is the largest.


People Serving People is a model that would lend itself to the circumstances in SLO and the Central Coast overall. Yes, the center in Minn. focuses on families with children, but the overall infrastructure of the program could shift to meet the needs of the people who face homelessness here on the central coast. I am not saying this would be a magic bullet either, it would another tool in the arsenal. This isn’t a black or white issue and to throw this model out because they focus on families, is ridiculous. If daycare isn’t needed, fine, then put a program in place they do need. I think the reason PSP works is because they are not connected to the government as much as CapSLO appears to be—they work more independently—they raise their funds, have some people in paid positions, but use an army of volunteers to fill the gaps.

Homelessness doesn’t need more money thrown at it to be fixed or affected—the money we have to spend towards this needs to be spent wiser and the people who are employed to work with our homeless on the central coast need to actually do just that. I can assure you, I have attempted to help in several situations and the people who were supposed to assist were doing just the opposite. I provided more assistance to this particular situation than the entire system I was asking for assistance from—it was very frustrating.

All I know is, we do not solve homeless by opening shelters up at night, and sending people out to the streets during the day. Their addictions, mental health issues, lack of food resources, and lack of other resources are not dealt with—they are still out there, with no support, no direction, no real help. The shelters do nothing. And while the PSP model may not be a magic bullet, it would provide a better model than what we currently have; which is a government entity failing miserably.



Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?


I saw this article and forwarded it to CAPSLO. The response I got?

“Thank you for your note. We have seen this article previously and I can assure you we follow events regarding homelessness across the country.

The challenge of solving homelessness has many complexities and there is no one simple answer.

There is no doubt that the availability of affordable housing is a major component of any solution and we absolutely agree that our community must try to find a way to increase the supply for those in need. We work with a wide group of service providers including HASLO and People’s Self Help to try and move the needle on housing opportunities.

At the same time we also understand that it is impossible to ignore the many issues those individuals who visit our Day Center and Night Shelter are dealing with as they seek to restore stable housing to their lives. We and many other providers work with these folks to try and find ways to find housing but also prepare them to be ready for dealing with their issues which may have caused their loss of housing.

It is that continuum of care that will hopefully prevent the individual from slipping back into a homeless situation. Ultimately there is nothing that would make us all happier than to not have homelessness in our community.

We thank you for your interest and would invite you to visit to tour with our staff and meet some clients at the facilities to see how the community’s support can indeed make a difference.

Grace McIntosh

Deputy Director”

And for those of you who don’t click on links, what was the article? Utah is solving their homeless problem by giving homeless people a place to live; no conditions, no one gets kicked out, no one takes over managing their money, they get an apartment to live in, rent free. In a Republican state; no hoops to jump through, no drug tests, just a place to live, period.

CAPSLO wouldn’t really have much need to exist if we followed Utah’s example, IMO.


“No incentives, fee reductions or other measures

will benefit anyone other than the developers…”

And who was Caren Ray’s number one supporter? Bingo!

Developer Gary Grossman.

Any wonder why workforce housing is near and dear to Caren’s heart?

She’s already working on her next campaign.



Response to obispan, below.


Interesting piece, but pointless. Congalton guest host Caren Ray championed “workforce housing”, but that, as well as housing the homeless will remain a function of government. No incentives, fee reductions or other measures will benefit anyone other than the developers unless the resulting housing is government restricted and managed. They will take all reduced fees as profit. The sale price does not change. The only solution would be mass Bakersfield development to “build our way out of it” and lower housing costs. Didn’t see Katie championing that in Malibu or Beverly Hills. You want affordable housing? Bakersfield or Santa Maria, thank you very much.



I often agree with you on other matters but I think that you are making a common mistake here. That is, you have some valid criticisms of the current system (although some are not in my opinion) but instead of taking a hard look at the downside of a proposed alternative, you uncritically accept it as better.

For those who are homeless due to sudden economic disaster, physical health problems that prevent most employment and a few others, your proposals would probably be an improvement. Maybe a limited version of your proposal would work for them.

However, substantial numbers of homeless people are in their situation due to mental illness and/or chemical dependency addictions. Giving these people unsupervised housing is asking for problems as they will often ruin it either directly with fits of rage or indirectly through near-total neglect. They need to have their problems under control before being given the kind of independence that free or heavily-subsidized housing provides or they will create abuses worse than those in which they already engage.

The current shelter on Orcutt Road is near the end of it’s life span and takes large amounts of maintenance just to stay habitable. A new shelter would have greatly reduced maintenance costs and be an all-around better environment for those staying there. I do agree with the idea of an intensive chemical dependency/mental health inpatient treatment facility but that could be incorporated into the new shelter. The biggest cost would be the personnel costs for those operating it though and would exist no matter where such a facility was built.

Finally, the proposed facility would roughly double the number of beds if what I have heard is correct. Given the large numbers of homeless currently unable to get into the existing shelter, I don’t think that it would create a significant draw to out-of-town homeless. If that becomes a concern, policies requiring proof of presence in the county for a period of time before being accepted into the shelter could virtually eliminate that. (Also, wouldn’t a successful program of providing separate housing first — before other assistance — be at least as big a draw for others from outside the area?)


Correct me if I’m wrong but capslo doesn’t help the drug and alcohol addictions,or the mental problems they just shove those back out the door.

Now the other homeless that are just down and out with families those people need housing,low income housing by a developer is out of the question,instead of the city of SLO and the County Supes giving money away to capslo, without the taxpayers permission, maybe that money would be better spent in building either homes or apartments and start a program such as Utah has, cut capslo completly out of the game.


CAPSLO doesn’t directly provide assistance with drug and alcohol addictions or mental health problems but they do try to connect people with such problems to other agencies that can help. They only “shove those back out the door” that create problems for others being helped although those obviously under the influence may be booted out with a recently enacted “drug free” policy.

CAPSLO can’t and doesn’t solve all the problems of the homeless and downtrodden but they do help many with their programs to assist people in getting jobs and in finding places to live. The proposed new shelter would not, by itself, expand what they do but it would increase the number of people they can help, make for a better environment for the homeless being served and improve operational efficiency by combining the day center and night shelter into one operation and reducing maintenance costs. They can’t do much more than that now because of funding limitations and providing new housing for individuals (via construction, purchase or rental) would be extremely limited due to the high costs. Even if they abandoned all their other homeless services, a total budget of less than $3 million per year would not supply many properties in this area compared to the number of people they can get off the streets with a shelter.

Rich in MB

Well said Dan,

I would ask, who is smarter?

The Homeless guy that hitches a ride from Bakersfield or Fresno to SLO City


The folks at CAPSLO that going to spend millions on the same thing already proven to fail, but are expecting different results?

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