May 20, 2013 5:58 PM by Keli Moore, KSBY News

SLO's top priority, addressing homelessness

There are more homeless people in California than any other state in the nation, and over the last few years San Luis Obispo has seen a significant increase in the amount of people living on its streets, parks and under bridges.

The issue is now one of the city's top priorities, which is why many minds are working collaboratively to find solutions.

The Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, or CAPSLO, is trying to better understand the local homeless population, because they think this could help solve the problem.

"The population is becoming more and more complex," said Dee Torres, who is the homeless services coordinator for CAPSLO. "Here in the county, the demographics are majority white middle-aged men."

She told KSBY that local services are at capacity.

"We roughly serve about 90 people here at the shelter each evening, and we notice similar statistics with our population," she said.

Statistics like this; 20 percent are ready homeless, meaning they want help and are willing to make life changes; 40 percent are unable homeless, meaning they have mental illnesses or addictions that need to be addressed first; and the remaining 40 percent is the group most visible to San Luis Obispo residents, the resistant homeless.

"I do believe there is a trending to a younger generation that would fit into that category and routinely I will hear stories from citizens that may have been accosted, particularly in downtown," said Steve Gesell, Police Chief for San Luis Obispo.

He said this is a life choice -- hip to be homeless.

"We know that majority of the individuals living in San Luis Obispo are not from the city or the county," said Derek Johnson, Community Development Dir., San Luis Obispo.

He said for some reason those who are choosing this lifestyle gravitate to California's coastal cities, like San Luis Obispo.

"Certainly the climate and there are areas throughout the city that make is attractive for pan handling and we have a lot of open spaces for people to sleep and camp where they can go unnoticed," said Johnson.

But are they going unnoticed when residents voice concerns about continuously being harassed in downtown.

"It's completely legal to pan handle," said Gesell. "Up to 30 percent of our call volume during the day time hours are related to adverse impacts from transient behavior in the community."

Annually, the city spends over $400,000 on the homeless issue from policing efforts to providing beds and hot meals.

The focus of local services is on the 20 percent of ready, the people who want to transition out of homelessness, so this raises a question. Are the ones who are resistant taking away from those who are willing?

According to the recent homeless count, there are 1,700 homeless people in San Luis Obispo County, and 40 to 50 percent of the county's population lives in San Luis Obispo.



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