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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Ted Slanders

In the meantime of finding a solution to the homeless in SLO County, and since more will be arriving because of the adage, “if you build it, they will come,” what about putting these entities into action for those “other people” that live in this county?

As an example, did San Luis Obispo ever have any loitering laws? Can’t the commercial alcoholic beverages sales law also pertain to the homeless around town, and if not, make it a law and follow it?

“17.11.030: Section C, number 3; That it does not result in repeated nuisance activities within the premises or in close proximity of the premises, including but not limited to disturbance of the peace, illegal drug activity, public drunkenness, drinking in public, harassment of passersby, gambling, prostitution, sale of stolen goods, public urination, theft, assaults, batteries, acts of vandalism, excessive littering, LOITERING, graffiti, illegal parking, excessive loud noises, especially in the late night or early morning hours, traffic violations, curfew violations, lewd conduct, or police detentions and arrests;”

When are the Panhandling Laws of San Luis Obispo going to be addressed by the police at ALL TIMES for the sake of tax paying citizens wanting to enjoy the city without being continuously harassed by panhandlers? Isn’t it possible for one police officer to actually walk San Luis Obispo downtown to remove said panhandlers and bench sitters, while perusing for other possible problems? Don’t the businesses pay enough taxes for this proposal?


“The City’s Municipal Code also regulates the use of public benches (Chapter 9.40). A person cannot remain upon any public bench for a continuous period of time in excess of one hour, or in excess of three hours in any 24-hour period; or arrange personal property on or in front of a bench in a manner that obstructs or precludes the use of the bench by others.” When is this law going to be continuously regulated by the Police Department?

What about a new Civilian Conservation Corp, where in the case of the homeless, they could earn their pay until rehabilitated like back under the New Deal? In this way, they could pay for their own housing that is proffered about as part of the solution. Is it time to reinstate the CCC instead of spending BILLIONS on fraudulent wars, barring the needless loss of life, where said wars and occupation will NEVER REALIGN A RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGY that goes back thousands of years!



” Is it time to reinstate the CCC instead of spending BILLIONS on fraudulent wars, barring the needless loss of life”

I concur but it has to be nationwide, not just SLO, but the feds view homeless a local problem or jurisdiction.

It would cost billions – trillions of dollars to resolve this “nationwide” problem! and they should!

Similar to what was said in the book of Timothy “How can we tell or dictate other nations how to live when we cannot live our own life right!”

Ted Slanders


It could originate in Califorina on a trial basis where all homeless have to be a part of it, like where everyone that drives an automobile has to have a license and insurance. The least of which, if you come to California and are homeless, you have to work until you get your feet back on the ground.

In this way, facetiously, then the adage of “If you build it, they will come” might be a deterrent instead of a prize.


Your last suggestion about a revived CCC is a good one. Due to various other problems (physical disabilities, mental illness, etc.) many of the homeless would not be helped by such but there are enough who would to make the concept worthwhile.

Ted Slanders


The other problems of mention could be taken care of separately like we do in other areas. The bottom line is that if you come to California and are able bodied, you WORK for your keep with no more free rides, panhandling, and the like!

Six million dollars for the new homeless temporary shelter handout would go a long way in initiating a local Civilian Conservation Corp. Doesn’t San Luis Obispo take pride in being the first in the country, like the cigarette ban being started locally? Let it be the first once again with a local homeless CCC.


I think communities like San Luis Obispo will be chronically plagued by homelessness.

We are a temperate, beautiful County. If I were homeless and going to have to hang out someplace all day, SLO county beaches are much better than Bakersfield or Fresno. Panhandling is probably a little harder, as the SLO county residents are scrimping to get by too, as the economy struggles to improve. Larger coastal communities, like Newport Beach or Santa Cruz have more tourists or just more happening, so it would seem those would be the places to be…..

Assuming that we have a percentage of homeless that DO really want to improve their lives (and statistics I read said 40% of homeless really are working toward success), I am not sure how that happens in SLO County. I read an article recently that provided links to some data saying a family with 2 children needs the adult worker(s) to have an income of $31.14 an hour to be able to “make it” here. I think this is the link to that information: http://www.insightcced.org.

Anyone know the employers out there who are paying wages to meet that need? I think that dollar amount assumes your rent/mortgage is “only” $1200 and your health insurance is “only” $500ish.

So my point is that wages vs over all cost of living is a challenge to us all, let alone someone who is trying to pick themselves up and out of homelessness. Over 2500 people applied for 500 section 8 spots that became available this year, so the need is great.


Quite a few years ago I was talking to a friend of mine who lives in the Bay Area. He was involved with a church that helped to feed and cloth the homeless in San Francisco (back when SF was not chic) and he was telling me some war stories.

As many know SF does not have the nicest weather for outdoor living and it can be fairly gritty place to live. I jokingly said that I would migrate to Palo Alto or Atherton or even SLO if I was a Bay Area homeless person.

He said that no, they are attracted to SF (remember this was many years ago) because SF had the infrastructure in place to feed/cloth/bed homeless people. Even many years back SF was a magnet that draw homeless from quite a distance.

That’s what’s happening in SLO now. Largely because people want to create an enterprise on the backs of taxpayers that is going to render six digit incomes for them. I suspect if by formal decree that no position would pay over $75K/year at this new homeless taj mahol that much of the support for it would vanish overnight.


I suspect that you are wrong about your >$75K/yr proposition. The person currently in charge of the Maxine Lewis shelter and Prado day center makes less than that and is unlikely to make more than that even if a raise accompanies the building of the new center. The top management at CAPSLO do make over $100K/yr but they oversee an organization of 1000+ employees, spread out from San Diego to Stockton, and ~85% of that is Head Start. (Less than 5% of their budget is for local homeless services.)


I am talking about the chiefs over at headquarters on Southwood — PACSLO. Get rid of them all…

JB Bronson

The points made by Mr. Carpenter affirm that the issues at CAP-SLO go well beyond the distractiion of Dee Torres and politcal ties to Adam Hill.

CAP-SLO goes after available money, without asking if it makes community sense to do so, or if they have the capacity to do the job, (which they have demonstrated they do not).

This approach will keep CAP-SLO’s doors open, the homeless no better off, and the tax payer you know where.


That’s exactly right. When the dust settles it’s those who are paid large sums to run CAPSLO that benefit and not the homeless and certainly not the taxpayers.


You seem to have some inside information about CAPSLO’s salary plans with which I am not familiar. As far as I know, no one working solely in their homeless services department makes 6 figures. Dee Torres salary as head of it was ~$70K if I remember right. Her position was eliminated and the duties split between 2-3 others. One of those was making 6 figures before as one of CAPSLO’s top executives but the others are not to my knowledge. Do you have information to the contrary? If not, what is your basis for implying that CAPSLO’s staff are overpaid.


Why is ANYONE being paid six figures at CAPSLO?


Because they manage a $60 million budget and supervise 1000 employees.


And why do they do that? What benefit are they actually providing other than to themselves? This CAPSLO thing sounds like a monster.


Thanks for your comments Councilman Carpenter. This proposed $4.5M (sure to exceed $6.5M) shelter is a boondoggle.

Its purpose is to secure federal/state/local funding to build what ultimately amounts to an enterprise that will pay some very hefty salaries. A project designed to employ fat cat, six figure administrators. The homeless are merely being used as a means to that true end.

I like the idea of neatly filling that Prado property with mobile homes…

Kevin Rice

Dan is a large asset to our community. Here, he is bringing ideas to the public for debate. The rest of the council are closed-minded authoritarians who set their agenda in the back room. Council votes are hardly more than rubber stamps on what has already been pre-ordained. The public is left in the cold and never participates in the real agenda.

Thanks, Dan!


Thank you for your attention to this Dan. I fear we are losing downtown SLO. The two examples you noted in this article are the most public, but those of us downtown regularly are experiencing disturbing encounters, frequently. Frankly, I feel for the jobless/mentally ill homeless. They are preyed upon and bullied by the same group most of us are having problems with. Your suggestion of “housing first” would help this group immediately. This mostly younger, male, able bodied, wave of “homeless” has changed downtown. For many, this is their lifestyle choice. Unfortunately, there is a drug culture thrown in as well. Your comment about transient homeless, “whose pilgrimage is validated daily by our community of guilt-ridden enablers who ignore the benevolence of tough love”, is right on. And I need to add, I feel the police need to be off their bikes, and out of their cars, and walk the beat downtown. Everyday, regularly. It is the only tried and true method, and has historically worked to reduce crime. Downtown SLO needs to get in front of this problem. It is always in mop-up. The businesses are forced to hire their own security to protect customers and employees. They also have the burden of cleaning up the horrible messes left. The creek is a dumping ground and toilet. Many of the transient will move on if they are no longer funded. Please do not give money! If someone seems truly hungry, offer food. If you really want to stop aggressive ones, offer them work for money. It is really eye opening. I know I am sounding heartless. My heart is actually broken for these young men who are taking this path.”Tough love” is not easy. But, what happened to the two young women should shake us all to action.

Mr. Holly

This is another excellent article by Mr. Carpenter from someone on the inside looking out. The reason that there is not a better effort at providing affordable/workforce housing is pure and simple, it’s government. Government always talks about it but never makes any commitment in actually being a partner in the process except for putting up every hurdle during the planning process that is possible. When that process is completed next comes the excessive fees that are being charged to these projects. Nothing will ever happen until government becomes a partner. There are few if any government officials that are willing to offer financial relief to these projects.

There have been a couple of “affordable” projects that have been completed. But when the government has been involved the cost of these projects are usually close to double than what the private sector costs would be.

Another example is assisting the homeless. ECHO in Atascadero, which is minimally subsidized by government and privately run, can feed and house the homeless for a little over $5 a person per day. It would take government far more than that to think about it.

HSOC has and is a failure. In 7 years what have they done except spend hundreds of thousand dollars on themselves with no noticeable difference in addressing the homeless.

If you want to address the homeless situation you first need to fix government first.


SLO will never get ahead of the homeless situation

as long as these folks keep being bussed into the area.

Other counties and states are shipping their problems here,

it’s a lot cheaper to dump them on us than for them to deal with these folks.

So far, San Luis can’t seem to figure out that the more services they provide,

the more homeless will find their way here.

Reminds me of our southern border.


Your attitude shines through in paragraph #1. Note the important difference between these phrases:

* “…it can hardly be labeled as successful with more homeless residents in our community than ever before”


* “…it can hardly be labeled as successful with more residents in our community homeless than ever before”

Dan Carp

Purposefully stated………more .transient homeless are relocating to our community as opposed to the residents in our community becoming homeless!


Very true, and the more attractive we continue to make it for them,

the more will come.