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San Luis Obispo County's plan to reduce homelessness aims to expand mental health and addiction services

Posted at 12:05 PM, Sep 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-06 15:05:03-04

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to reduce homelessness in the county by 50% in five years.

The plan includes more than simply providing shelter for the homeless. It also addresses their greater needs, such as access to services for mental health issues and substance abuse disorders.

The El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) is a community partner for the homeless system of care.

Linda Walton, ECHO resident, shared her experience at the homeless shelter.

“This place right here has helped me a whole lot. All I wanted was just another chance of life,” she said.

Walton suffered from addictions that led to homelessness. SLO County’s goal of reducing homelessness involves offering a wide variety of services to meet individual needs.

"Recently we opened drug and alcohol services, mental health services and public health services in one building up in Paso,” said Anne Robin, County of SLO Behavioral Health Director. “We try to integrate the services as much as possible." 

These services are only one piece of the puzzle in addressing homelessness.

The county's new five-year plan follows a housing-first model. It was established on national evidence-based best practices to help the homeless.

Step one of the model is to get people housed so they can have a safe place to work through addictions and mental health issues.

“I went through a struggle of depression using methamphetamine as a dopamine to release my anger, stress and everything when it was just eating me up. So I was self-medicating,” said James Vincent Nocerino III, ECHO resident.

Nocerino is now sober and thankful to the ECHO shelter.

Susan Funk, Chair of the Homeless Services Oversight Council said, “That was a Motel 6. Through Project Homekey, they were able to convert it to half homeless shelter and half permanent supportive housing.”

The county's housing goal is broken down into six targets by housing type and includes supports needed for success.

Target one needs the support of diversion specialists. Target two, three, and four need case management and behavioral health staffing. Target five needs case management.

Permanent supportive housing is target six of the housing goal. Case management, behavioral health staffing, and extensive partnerships with health care organizations are needed for the success of this target.

The plan is extensive and includes many more supports needed to stabilize people in housing.

With the collaboration of different community organizations, like ECHO, this plan is developing a variety of housing options to offer these supports.

“It's almost like they are our brother and sister helping us out so I feel guidance coming here,” Nocerino said. “And they're protecting us and keeping an eye on us.”

Experts say one obstacle to reaching the goals of this plan is staffing. Robin says there are vacancies in the SLO Behavioral Health Department and vacancies among the homeless services providers.

For more information on the county's homeless plan, click here.