Proposal to end the lawlessness in Los Osos, help the homeless

July 22, 2021

Becky McFarland

OPINION by BECKY MCFARLAND and PAT WEST

We are all aware of the fact that the homeless crisis in San Luis Obispo County is growing faster than the remedies. While we are fortunate to have created the Motel 6 Project Room Key in Paso Robles and Forty Prado shelter program in San Luis Obispo, many homeless people remain encamped on our streets, doorways, and sidewalks, and in bushes and under trees on both government and private lands.

One striking example of this is the Palisades Avenue unsanctioned encampment in the heart of Los Osos Midtown. It is negatively impacting a park, library, community center and church, causing traditional community events to be cancelled. It has grown to nearly 40 residents in cars, vans, trailers, RVs, and tents. It has introduced chaos, mental illness upheaval, drug abuse and dealing, unsanitary conditions, lawlessness, an extreme fire hazard, hopelessness, and violence to an otherwise tranquil community street.

Is it humane to allow people to live without safe and secure shelter and basic amenities? Is it humane to turn our backs on the out-of-control lawlessness of these unsanctioned and unsupervised encampments in our towns? Do we not treat our homeless animals better than this?

We understand that there are early plans for one or more “Tiny Villages” in our county that will shelter a select number of our homeless citizens. This will take months, if not years, to accomplish, especially with the scarcity of usable land. Meanwhile, there is an immediate crisis that cannot wait.

The county must take responsibility to immediately provide a safer, more humane living environment for these homeless people.

Pat West

We propose that the county start by transitioning those living on the street and in the bushes of Palisades Avenue to the county owned El Chorro Regional Park Campground (El Chorro) and adjacent pasture.

This camp was once used in the 1980’s as the county’s first homeless shelter, with a concerned citizen using two refurbished school buses for housing. And again, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was used to quarantine the homeless who were ill with the virus.

It can be easily readied to welcome the homeless people again. At El Chorro they will humanely have access to water, electricity, lighting, sewer, toilets, showers, sanitation maintenance, and constant, secure management oversight in that one central location. This campground features 61 campsites. (43 are full hook-ups with electricity, sewer, and water. Eighteen sites are primitive with water nearby.)

All have access to restrooms and showers 24 hours of every day. Each site can accommodate approximately six to eight people and a couple of tents, or a full-size RV. A maximum trailer length for some sites is up to 40 feet.

The different governmental and non-profit agencies will be able to coordinate all needed services on site: medical health care, mental health care, food services, social services, drug and alcohol treatment services, job training, and camp management.We believe that this transition can be accomplished in six weeks, once it has Board approval. Let us not forget that the County’s Vision Statement is for a safe, healthy, livable, prosperous, and well-governed community.

Action plan

1. The first step will be the immediate and unanimous approval of this action plan at an emergency SLO County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, with the assigning of the state-provided homeless funds to the involved county departments taking part in this process.

2. Next, the county administrative office will assign a department to the initial transition leadership role. Our suggestion is that it be the Office of Emergency Services, as they are well trained to promote effective coordination between agencies in times of emergencies. And this crisis is an emergency.

They may also have the ability to request FEMA trailers in which to live for those without a vehicle or tent. Other government entities to play a role in the transition plan and then in the maintenance plan will include the public information officer, California Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s Office, Parks and Recreation, Behavioral Health, and Social Services.

There could also be assistance from non-governmental agencies such as: Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), Transitions Mental Health Association (TMHA), United Way, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Los Osos Cares, and People Helping People. Once the departments, agencies, and people are identified, work can begin in earnest.

3. Parks and Recreation will need to cancel all reservations beyond the six-week move date, so the campground will be cleared of all visitors and prepared for the transition. They will also need to identify appropriate on-site spaces for service trailers to be established.

4. The Public Information Officer, along with any needed law enforcement support, will provide a notice to each person encamped in the Palisades Avenue area announcing the transition to a better place and giving the specific date for the move. The notice will stipulate that they will no longer be able to stay in the Palisades encampment after that date. Once this is completed, it is likely that some of the individuals living in vans and RVs, identifying themselves as “vagabonds”, may simply move on.

The information officer can then publicize this plan through the usual multi-media channels and departments.

5. The Social Services Department’s Homeless Services staff, perhaps with the assistance of CAPSLO, can begin to interview each encamped person to identify what support will be needed to make the move (Are their vehicles running? Will they need to be transported? Will they need help packing their belongings? Etc..)’ then coordinate meeting those needs.

6. Staff will need to be identified and trained to provide management and security for the new El Chorro county-sanctioned encampment. Consider human resources from Social Services, behavioral health and/or probation (as used during the short-lived “Safe Parking” at the Los Osos library parking lot). Then these staff can put together the rules for the new encampment.

7. It would be ideal, although not totally necessary, to consider daily food services for the encamped people. The county could consider contracting with San Luis Coastal Unified School District, local mobile food vendors, or working with local non-profits.

8. El Chorro is well situated between Morro Bay, Los Osos, and San Luis Obispo. The Regional Transportation Agency (RTA) already has buses traveling these towns.

What will be needed is the creation of a new bus stop at the entrance to the campground giving those without a vehicle a safe access to these towns and beyond for shopping, eateries, laundromats, and appointments. The new bus stop will ensure that no one will need to unsafely cross the highway where cars are traveling at 65 miles per hour

9. When all is ready, the people in the Palisades area can be given directions to, or transported, if need be, to their new county sanctioned encampment. They will each be given a specific date and time for arrival during the moving week. The new four
encampment managers will be waiting to greet each person and get them settled into an appropriate, preplanned site. Each will have a lockable container for their possessions.

New residents will be introduced to the Community Code of Conduct and the dispute resolution process. An agreement will be signed by each new resident acknowledging that they will comply with the simple code. The contract may include the residents each having a responsible role in helping to manage and maintain their temporary camp community. This could include anything from a sliding scale fee for rent and services from those with an income, to partaking in maintenance of the grounds and buildings for credit to mitigate those fees for those with no income.

While it is obvious that the Parks and Recreation services will be losing revenue with this plan, there should be governmental homeless funds to cover all park costs.

10. Once everyone is transitioned from Palisades Avenue to El Chorro, the services of Medical Health, Behavioral Health, and Social Services can begin in earnest to be on site routinely, and work with each camp resident to improve their wellbeing and form long-term housing plans and jobs preparation.

It will also be an opportunity to support drug and alcohol treatment services. Along with continuous services, it would be time to consider a community-sized, insulated structure that would be used for shared meals and meetings, and for a warm place to sleep on cold or rainy nights.

11. At this point, when the basic routine is established and functioning well, consideration can be given to transition other homeless people from Morro Bay, Cayucos, San Luis Obispo, and beyond to this new supportive community. When a more permanent housing village has been constructed, a number of those living at El Chorro may be ready to transition to this next step. We perceive this proposed plan to extend at least over two years while the County has time to expand long-term housing options for our homeless population.

One long-term option could be created immediately adjacent to the campgrounds, as there is room in the pasture area for a “tiny village.” Here, for ease of management, all services and management could be shared with the campground. If successfully executed, the El Chorro encampment may continue to be the first step for many in our region who find themselves without a roof over their heads and without hope.

12. And finally, it will be important to put our scarred community spaces back to their former status. County Public Works will be required to remove trash and clean our affected streets, sidewalks, parking lots and properties that have been negatively impacted.

Just as important will be to enact a “No Camping on Street” ordinance in Los Osos and other community areas, as was approved and enacted for Cayucos and Avila Beach by the County Board of Supervisors in 2008.

13. In the future, our community will be able to immediately direct those needing a temporary, safe, and humane place to sleep or live to El Chorro County Sanctioned Encampment. It will hopefully be the first step for many toward safe and secure housing and a better quality of life. We ask that you give profoundly serious consideration to this proposal, and then take the first step to make it happen.

Los Osos residents Rebecca McFarland and Pat West have started a petition to help the people, with a goal of 4,000 signatures.


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metoo

The homeless primarily need drug rehab and mental health. If our laws do not enable our citizens to enforce treatment or enforce loitering, then we must change our laws. I am tired of seeing fires set by homeless, filth and garbage in our parks. If you feel extremely compassionate about this problem, invite them into YOUR home.


Niles Q

I doubt the County’s general plan for El Chorro includes permanent homeless encampments, so you’d need to amend the general plan first. Then cancel the investments the County is making in the park’s amenities, like cabins and more campsites, zip lines and more. It would require a 180-degree turnaround from what the County has in mind for that park. In this county there are three traditional types of affordable housing — subsidized housing for seniors and Section 8; mobile home parks; and old motels that get turned into studio apartments. In Morro Bay there are nearly a dozen of these old motels scattered about town and a couple of older motels that might suit this purpose as well, specifically Motel 6 with 72 units. But that’s affordable hosing for working people or at least those with an income and able to pay modest rent. But with the attitudes of people in this county — I call them CAVE People – Citizens Against Virtually Everything — even this idea would be a hard sell. People automatically assume when you talk about “affordable” it means “homeless.” But what I’m talking about is small units with utilities included in rent, since many can’t pass credit checks to open gas or electric service. Even the City requires a $100 deposit on new water customers. I think people would appreciate having a shower to keep clean, a toilet to use whenever they want, cable TV, a place to cook a meal and warm place to sleep. And, a door they can lock at night. I think the old barracks of Camp San Luis, out behind Cuesta would be a better location for free housing. And if these old cabins are unusable, replace them with tiny homes. And run the RTA No. 12 bus through it to provide public transportation to Morro Bay or SLO, where they can catch a bus to anywhere in SLO County. And isn’t there a huge open area next to Palisades Ave.? Why not build a campground on that patch of sand and dune scrub? Oh yeah, it would have adverse environmental impacts to protected habitat…


GS

Can you please explain why the “San Luis Coastal Unified School District” should have anything to do with feeding homeless people? Our schools are underfunded enough as it is, why would you think that taking resources from children to feed the homeless was a good idea?