Homelessness in SLO County is our fault

July 20, 2021

Gordon Mullin

By GORDON MULLIN

“I got a right to be here” growled the homeless gentleman I was talking to just off the trail near our local sewage plant. I was riding my bike along the path and he hailed me down for a chat. As it turns out, he actually wanted to hit me up for money, but I stayed briefly for the conversation.

He was from another state, but he had heard that life was better out on the Central Coast. I agreed with him and then asked what he would do if the cops asked him to move. He first reasserted his rights, paused, then shrugged his shoulders and said he’d probably just find another place. Somewhere else.

There have always been folks who had no place to call home but certainly the numbers have climbed in the last 20 years, especially in California. Estimates run between 150,000 to over one-quarter million in our golden state today. How accurately can we count people who have no residence? Not well obviously.

You’ve heard the ‘whys’ many times: drugs, alcoholism, mental health, job loss, evicted from their prior home due to misbehavior, didn’t pay the rent or mortgage, marital breakup, committed crimes and perhaps they just have a low IQ and can’t hold a job- can’t function in society.

Admittedly, that’s a quick overview of the who and why. The pertinent question I’d like us to consider today is- in what way do our institutions, our laws and our expectations add to the problem. What’s our fault; you and me as voters and influencers of our local and state governments?

The readers of this missive are highly unlikely to be homeless. We’re the one’s who pay taxes and vote. We have the ultimate power through the ballot box. So today, I ask, what should we, what can we, through our governments, do to mitigate the problem.

This being California, lets start with our dysfunctional housing laws and regulations. We have some of the most expensive housing in America and, at base, it’s because we don’t want new homes and apartments built nearby- NIMBYism. Every effort by a developer to build housing in our state is met with ever increasing regulations, zoning restrictions, angry neighbors, escalating fees, costly regulatory delays and layers of administrative bodies that demand homage and paperwork.

I have builder friends in their eighties and nineties who built hundreds of homes and apartments in this county. Their stories of the comparative ease they met when seeking building permits some 50 years ago are heartbreaking. They could build a home within six months, from the purchase of the land to handing over the key, make a profit and the average working family could move in and pay a smaller portion of their paycheck then than the average worker would today. And their homes still stand.

Try the same exercise now – count on, at minimum, two years of administrative grief and north of $50,000 in government fees.

It’s our fault there’s not enough ‘workforce’ housing. We voted in legislators who happily added yet another shackle to the ankles of the building industry, link by link.

We also allowed, through legislation and court action, the dismemberment of mental institutions which housed those who cannot function in the general society. Yes, there is a good argument that some who were forced into our institutions should not have been but we’ve gone too far the other direction.

Ask a cop, “How much of your time is spent dealing with the crazies” and she’ll start with a groan. Our guys in blue have to deal with the fallout of our mistaken over-reach in the 80’s when we opened the doors of our mental institutions and failed to provide appropriate alternatives and threw away the laws that could mandate that, for example, the mentally ill must take their medications. We did that.

Another ancillary mistake is the legislative removal of appropriate responses to criminal behavior. Yes, I can walk into a store, load up a bag full of goodies, under $950, and walk out with the loot. If caught, it’s a misdemeanor. I won’t spend any time in jail. If I’m homeless, I won’t pay a fine.

I can steal, in broad daylight, a $200 shopping cart from a grocery store and the likelihood of a negative legal response is zip. Nothing.

I am reminded of the adage, “Every dysfunctional behavior that is tolerated, is encouraged.” None of us would think that we should raise our children with these standards, or at least I hope not, so why do we tolerate this behavior from our every growing criminal and homeless class?

Just as we no longer demand that our fellow citizens cannot defecate in the civic space, a public health mandate 2000 years in the making, we no longer, as a citizenry, embrace that the solutions to these problems lie with us. We say it’s someone else’s dilemma. Our politicians perhaps? Not me and thee.

I know that not everyone will embrace these sentiments. I will no doubt hear that the homeless and the criminals should be given extra latitude because of…. fill in the blank. And I am inclined to agree. Yes, give consideration, but only up to a point.

I think now we’ve gone too far and we accept aberrant behavior that even 20 years ago would not have been endured. We should stop now and head in the opposite direction.

You and I have the power of the ballot box.  There’s a state election coming up in two months and we, collectively, have the opportunity to steer our ship of state onto a different course.

Please, embrace the opportunity. We have the power; we have the responsibility.


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lofedna@gmail.com

I pretty much agree with Gordon, however I want to emphasize that I have worked hard and long (paid my dues) to be able to afford to live here. I don’t have much sympathy for freeloaders coming here for “the weather” and handouts. I believe we should take care of our LOCAL indigent, but not every tom, dick ,and mary that comes here from some other communities’ problem. There are other “affordable” places to live in; maybe not as nice as here, but most of the time what is sowed by one, does he reap.


Rambunctious

Bring back vagrancy laws…lock them up until they are clean and get them needed counseling and place them in a trade school….that’s compassion….leaving in the streets loaded off their asses is not…..build jail cells not homeless shelters….


RalphKane

The hobos were brazen enough to write “Martin v. Boise” on a cardboard sign and post it at their camp on Prado and South Higuera.


PinkyDmdz

Central Coast has a much bigger issue than noted above. This IS a symptom of the recent laws that have come from the Capitol agreed. However, a local issue is still a Local issue, especially along the Riverbed. After the PRPD showed on their Facebook page they cleaned up 1000’s of lbs. garbage My question is? Why are we cleaning up after the encampments occupants as opposed to helping them? All Counties State Wide are dealing with this. Venice Beach became so bad that the Sherriff’s took over and moved them.

In my North County world? Mayor Steve Martin should not in times like this be in charge of his own Police Department. There are no consequences for any of their behavior nor his. As a transplant from the East Bay? I can say that the PRPD could be absolutely managed better.

Regardless,

There are multiple factors that lead to this extreme homeless explosion other than housing crisis (that I did not even believe would effect me until my lease renewal). The same apt went from $2500 to $3500 overnight. This is not solely a Lanterman Act or Regan in the 80’s.

There is an apathy that has hit our local PD’s dealing with the symptoms of Legislation. A statement I often heard was “OUR HANDS ARE TIED”, or there is “ONLY SO MUCH WE CAN DO!” I disagree PAC’s give a lot of money to Legislator’s to help protect our Blue. So, It is time that we stop putting a band aid on the bleed, and forward think and find better solutions.

Oakland Mayor, London Breed blamed the DA, Chelsea Boudin, he is on Recall. So the Tenderloin PD heard the cries of the citizens and opted to arrest the drug DEALERS instead. There are more drug dealers than you would imagine in our Encampments Statewide than addicts. SF Tenderloin PD has been successful in their change in “target.” Our Youth are filmed in Dodge Place, by Dodge Place Residents, laying in the streets being assaulted again no one to help. (Video of girl on street by citizen on Twitter whom lives there. No violence was noted ). That is how bad it has become in the larger cities.

Locally? There are partnerships that could be made throughout the Central Coast with NAMI. OR all the SLO County PD’s and other agencies consider a coordinated move and go in and take out any dealer’s from the Riverbed.

If the Capitol does not want to make addicts criminals? THEN MAKE REHAB FREE and mandated when they are cited.

Disclaimer: My criticism of the Counties PRPD is purely by experience. It is claimed that my son beat up 10 of their finest officers out of the 33 that are on the force. These ridiculous charges that are accepted even by the courts DA, Dan Dow must stop. As there are more important issues that our affect our Residents than to make exaggerated cases against us. Yes this is hitting higher levels. Mayor Steve Martin and his pontification is mere puffery to hide his “Good Old Boy” mismanagement. To date he has not accepted my Internal Affairs complaint. Sadly for Ty Lewis and the PD? I have almost every day documented.

As a 2 year transplant I would encourage PRPD Citizens to be highly suspicious of ANY City Council that votes 5-0 the majority or if not all of the time with no dissent. Furthermore, if our Assembly Jordan Cunningham IS an ACTIVE Public Defender in our County? ( I do not know) then that should be an extreme conflict of interest.

Regarding the homeless problem, our DA needs to have a team even if volunteer to help find what is the true problem of our Riverbed Occupants, A Mental Health Condition or purely a drug issue that has created a Mental Condition. I learned in my early days as a Psychiatric Technician 1985 that there are Street People and Homeless. There are some who believe the streets is their home. The Concrete Jungle, put them in a tiny house, a room? They will Recreate their outdoor environment inside.

Until at least where I live, I cannot comment on any other city, the PRPD MUST change their ATTITUDES first, and stop making a culture/race the enemy as a focus in their policing. I would respectfully ask them or any PD StateWide to go after the real bad guys! Sweep the Encampments for dealers get them back in jail where they were and belong. Sort out those who are truly homeless and provide the Motel 6 to them. I can go on with suggestions but I will end it here. We cannot be punishing the addict when it is a KNOWN problem that the dealers are thriving Statewide.


isoslo

To take the discussion a bit further we also need to address crime and the current border policy, both of which are directly related to homelessness. I will always wonder why so many voters don’t really vote on the issues, they vote based on ideology and this is what we get. Many of todays elected representatives are really nice and care tremendously about everyone, but are afraid to enforce sound policies that protect the majority of citizens. Until the people start voting in real leaders and not just party of choice partisans, we will be continuing down the road of lawlessness and the homeless crises will continue!


incompingov

You just said the magic word. Politicians are AFRAID to act. They refuse to enforce laws then have taken an oath to enforce. They’re either liars and never intended to follow their oath or have now abandoned their beliefs assuming they ever had any. Politicians – the lowest form of life on the planet.


Jon Tatro

I agree with Gordon as a retired police officer, homelessness was not a crime but all the ancillary criminal behavior they did was illegal and could be enforced which eliminated most of the problem. Today there is no consequence to the illegal behavior thanks to the liberal politicians who wrote these laws keeping police from doing their jobs.


CentralcoastRN

SLO County is a beautiful place to be homeless. You can camp on the sandy beach with unobstructed ocean views. The weather is near 70 all year. The people are kind and will give you money. They are also trusting and are easy victims to unlocked cars and items ripe for stealing. The State of CA will give homeless people up to $336 a month in free general assistance funding. Not sure about food stamps. Free medical care through medi-cal. You can obtain a lot of free services, food, etc if you know how to work the system. So the question really is “why NOT SLO County?”


There are statistics out there that basically lay the numbers like this: About 20% of the homeless population ARE needy families. For whatever reason, they find themselves homeless and do not want to be homeless. They seek out services to become housed. 40% of the homeless have a mental health or drug problem and may want help/services. The challenge for this population is that there are rules for going to a shelter. You cannot go to a shelter if you are on drugs, even if you really want off of drugs. You must somehow get yourself to drug and alcohol services to get in to the Suboxone program, which has it’s own set of challenges and it isn’t like an ER…. You can only go for help certain days and times. If your ride flakes or the bus is late and you are 10 minutes late to your medication appointment… too bad. For sick and withdrawing homeless persons, this makes getting help VERY HARD. Mental health…. It is hard to get for the same reasons, and so often mental health and drug use are co-occurring. My point in mentioning this is that if we want the homeless situation to improve, we must make access less of an obstacle. ERs should be able to initiate Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) with a direct link to follow up at a County facility such as Drug and Alcohol Services. Like specifically, enough medication to last the homeless person until they can get refills at their follow up appointment. There are obvious breaks in care. I’ve seen it and it is frustrating to those of us who KNOW how to navigate the system, let alone someone who is sick or ill and do NOT know how.


That leaves us with another 40% of people. Who are they? Well, they have been coined the “resistant” homeless. These folks are comfortable and do not want help from the government. They don’t want to jump through any hoops. They don’t want jobs. They don’t want responsibilities. It is lame to pay child support, get a job, pay rent. So they aren’t doing it. This is America, and they can do what they want. Are they mentally ill and on drugs? Maybe. They are “resistant” because unlike the former group, this group wouldn’t take your help if you offered it up on a silver platter with doilies on it. K no thanks, bye.


I was going for a walk in my neighborhood at 530am before getting ready for work. I came across a person with a motorcycle helmet and visor on. He was banging his head on the ground and saw me. Approached me asking for money. Began to follow me. The pepper spray I had was useless, as this person had the visor pulled down. This person must have caused a scene before I arrived, because 2 police vehicles arrived. I walked on my way, and I watched as the police did nothing to him but watch him wander off toward the beach.


I agree OP that we must temper compassion with accountability. Most people see the problem. We must make access to help EASIER for those who want the help. We must house those we can. The problem is, some people cannot afford to live on the Central Coast, and they will have to move to have a better life. For those who do not want help, that is their choice. The consequence should be no free government money. We should pave/ grate an area for the homeless to camp in the tents THEY provide with some showers, toilets, electricity. THAT is where they live. Not in the bush. Not on the beach. NOT in the local parks.


Just my informed opinion. Take what you want, leave the rest.


Jorge Estrada

Enabler’s are why the homeless are here. The word is out, our weather, our generosity and rich kids who basically live on the shirt tails of their parents, basically we are more the same than different. I would encourage the bleeding hearts to take one homeless person home and be generous with their everything. We don’t need any outraged people to fund social programs, there are enough people who truly care, right?


Robert1

Excellent article, now if only Cali would back-bill the states from where these drug addicts and alcoholics come from.


sardonicsentiment

I once tried to address an encampment issue that was getting out of hand. I reached out and discussed the matter with at least 5 different entities and they all said the same thing; “We can’t do anything, try getting in touch with…”. Round and round it went with absolutely no solution, or even a route to a solution, being offered. The problem still persists. Take a drive down the north end of Palisades in Los Osos….. Meanwhile homes down the street are selling for 1 million plus. Lmao.