SLO leaders discuss the difficulties and hurdles of solving homelessness

Posted at 11:47 PM, Jun 27, 2018

With more than 400 homeless in San Luis Obispo, experts and the community came together for a discussion on the issue Wednesday. More than 140 people attended.

The panel discussion addressed questions the community has on the issue, one that several on the panel says is expanding in certain groups. Meanwhile there are a number of limitations in attempts to solve it.

In downtown, dozens of homeless roam the streets. More than a third battle mental health issues, according to the panel. While it’s not a crime to be homeless, SLO PD does enforce laws and ordinances on the books. But Chief Deanna Cantrell understands people’s leeriness toward the homeless.

"If you feel afraid, call us," she said. Let us come, let us evaluate because that’s what we’re here for."

To put in perspective, the 10 people have racked up 470 citations. One man was cited 45 timed for alcohol violation in a year.

There are a number of resources for those battling addiction and mental health issues, but housing continues to be a massive hurdle in providing more services.

"I’d love to say we’re going to work ourselves out of business, but unfortunately I see the opposite," said Grace McIntosh, Deputy Director, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo. "Until we get a handle on housing, affordable housing in this community, I’m going to have more and more people hitting my doors."

The panel reminded people another portion of the homeless population is single parents with children. Experts say there is also a rise in elderly also becoming homeless due to housing affordability in SLO.

 "We need housing," said Anne Robin, Behavioral Health Director, San Luis Obispo County. "We need services to support housing and without that, we’re not going to get to the solution that all of you are here to hear that today."

The two hour discussion in front of a standing-room-only crowd answered questions from the community including encampments and the trash they leave behind. The city identified 220 camps and picked up tons of trash in a complex and costly system. 

For law enforcement, mental health remains a focus.

"It’s about decriminalize mental health, how can we keep people out of the judicial system," said Undersheriff Tim Olivas. "And if they do, how can we provide better services, training and treatment for them so they don’t come back in a recidivate?"

Marijuana businesses opening in SLO was part of the discussion. Police looked at impacts of it on similar cities and claim there was as much as a 150 percent increase in homeless population relocating to a town with legalized marijuana. Cantrell says she doesn’t know what it will look like in SLO but there will be an impact and police are preparing for it including an increase on calls for service. 

The city plans to hire a mental health professional who will be embedded in the police department and ride with officers to get the chronically homeless into services. The position will be paid for through a grant.

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