In 2008, San Luis Obispo County Leaders embarked on a 10-year plan to end homelessness. Today, advocates say they have not met their goal but they have made progress.
"It’s not easy out here. People think of us as alcoholics, drunks, mental. That’s not all true," said Frank Madrid, who has been trying to find a home and a job for several years.
"Their excuse is, I’m too experienced. I’m too experienced for the job position I’m applying for," Madrid added while talking about his struggle to find a job.
A survey conducted in 2008 by San Luis Obispo County found there were 2,400 people considered homeless. Compare that to the most recent count in 2017 which shows there were 1,100 people without a home. That’s a 53 percent drop in less than a decade.
"Progress has been made but we still have a long way to go," said Laurel Weir, San Luis Obispo County’s Homeless Services Coordinator.
She says the county has made monumental strides in helping homeless veterans find places to live.
"We’ve reduced the number of homeless veterans significantly, but other areas, we still have a long way to go," Weir said.
One challenge the county still faces is a lack of housing and reasonably priced rentals.
"Middle-income folks who can’t find housing start to move into smaller and smaller units that used to be in the affordable housing sphere. It was driving those costs up and so the number of units available to us is shrinking," Weir said.
Gloria Mitchell was homeless for four years. She just received a housing voucher through the Section 8 Housing Lottery.
"I was number 400-something out of 500. I’ve been waiting the last three years to get a voucher and I went to my PO box one day and there it was," Mitchell said.
Finding a landlord to accept the voucher, Mitchell says, is a battle.
"I’ve been searching diligently for the last four months. It’s very, very hard to find a place around here," Mitchell said.
Those not eligible for housing say they can’t catch a break because camping or sleeping in public is illegal and that includes sleeping inside a car. Those caught could be charged hundreds of dollars in fines that they can’t afford.
"From living under bushes or trees or under a bridge? Living in a car is really nice, but there’s no place to really park it," Madrid said.
Another struggle for the county is getting "chronically homeless" people off the streets. They don’t have enough resources.
"It’s people who have a chronic mental illness, addictions, disorders, and some kind of serious health condition. Those are the folks who need a long-term housing subsidy and they need services. They can’t stay in housing unless you wrap them up with support," Weir said.
Weir says ten years ago, there were programs and federal dollars available for homeless housing programs but then the recession hit and some of those were lost.
The programs that are still there go a long way for some.
"I just hope that more people like myself get that kind of help as well because everyone deserves to have a place to live," Mitchell said.