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Advocates work to reduce number of homeless repeatedly ending up in county jail

Posted at 4:13 PM, Nov 19, 2018

When it comes to crime in our area, it seems like the same people are ending up behind bars over and over again.

Through a Public Records Act request, KSBY News found 125 San Luis Obispo inmates have been booked into the county jail ten times or more over the last two years.

The long list of various crimes ranges from petty theft to assault and battery.

The sheriff’s office couldn’t give exact names or addresses of the offenders, but many of them are homeless.

Janna Nichols is the executive director of the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition. She regularly assigns case managers, whom she calls coaches and mentors, to inmates in the jail who are homeless. It’s a painstaking process to reduce recidivism rates.

“We may pay for them to go to a treatment facility, we may pay for sober living, we may engage them at one of our programs that our partners has,” Nichols said.

During a City of San Luis Obispo homelessness panel over the summer, Police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the top ten offenders in San Luis Obispo were charged a total 470 times in just one year. That’s nearly one arrest for each person every week.

“The number one guy was cited 45 times for alcohol violations — 45 times in a year. We’re doing it, we’re doing the enforcement. Know that we are, we’re trying to do services and education where we can but if there’s resistance to that, we can’t force people to do services,” Chief Cantrell said.

At the same meeting, San Luis Obispo County Undersheriff Tim Olivas explained the Community Action Team’s desires to work with our area’s homeless population and enforcement’s role in recovery.

“Homelessness is not a crime but obviously there’s often times a mental health issue or substance abuse issue that coincides with homelessness that results in enforcement action,” Undersheriff Olivas said.

“We’re just starting conversations. The sheriff’s department has been out, the Honor Farm is always doing projects to support ECHO and the people we help, especially the children,” said Wendy Lewis, CEO of ECHO Homeless Shelter, who says there aren’t enough beds for the homeless in SLO County.

“If there’s over 1,100 people who are facing homelessness and only 160 beds, there’s not enough resources for that population,” Lewis said.

Paso Robles is the latest city on the Central Coast to declare a homeless shelter crisis. San Luis Obispo County declared a crisis earlier this month.

The sheriff’s office says it costs $152.73 to house an inmate for one day. About $22 goes toward medical treatment.