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SLO County unanimously passes $1.5 million initiative to benefit unhoused people

homeless VO
Posted at 8:26 AM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 17:21:27-04

UPDATE (2:21 p.m.) - In a meeting Tuesday morning, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the initiative with a vote of 5-0.

With the vote came direction to staff to examine the feasibility of other safe parking options in the area.

The decision increases the 70NOW program, a program to aid the 70 most at-risk members of the homeless populations, to 80NOW. Staff will look into the possibility of increasing it to a higher percentage.
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Safe places to sleep, cleaning up encampments and creating buy-in, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will meet Tuesday morning to discuss infusing $1.5 million into pilot programs to help the unhoused.

County officials say they’re focusing on building buy-in with the unhoused community.

This includes enlisting their help to make the process as smooth and sensitive as it can be while paving the way to permanent housing.

“…We'll be looking at doing some short-term pilot programs like creating safe parking spaces throughout the region, doing what's called the blue bag program, which is essentially helping unhoused individuals that live in camps throughout the region, with waste hauling and collecting syringes and in the bigger focus there is creating outreach to the homeless individuals, and trying to find out what they need and connecting them to the services that meet those needs," said Carolyn Berg, principal analyst for Housing and Infrastructure at San Luis Obispo County.

County officials say they haven’t pinpointed yet which specific encampments or spots to turn into safe parking places.

“It's [The pilot program initiatives] slated for about $1.5 million and that's in addition to the $11.3 million our board already approved in this year's budget towards a variety of programs and resources," Berg said.

They are also hoping to add 10 new beds to local shelters.

“So making sure that we're engaging and building relationships of trust with those who are living in the encampments and helping to guide them towards resources they might need, but often that can't happen in the first week or the first four weeks," Berg said.

The County estimates cleaning up these encampments could take around 12 to 24 weeks at each site.

“That's really dependent on the tonnage of waste that's at the site but our estimate is about 85,000 to 95,000, over the course of a year," Berg explained.

If the initiative is approved, the County would choose seven sites with an expected cost of around $225,000.

“What we're trying to do is help people that are unsheltered at the moment, so how do we help them in the place they are right now while we identify those longer-term solutions, so it's kind of an everything and solution,” Berg added.

County officials say they counted 1,483 unhoused residents living in San Luis Obispo, but add that the last headcount was back in 2019.

They are planning another count to update those numbers in January 2022.

Some of the pilot programs will help the homeless receive resources including cleaning-up encampments and safe places to park vehicles overnight.

“Essentially helping unhoused individuals that live in camps throughout the region, with waste hauling and collecting syringes and in the bigger focus there is creating outreach to the homeless individuals, and trying to find out what they need and connecting them to the services that meet those needs," Berg said.

There are reportedly more than 300 individuals who are living in vehicles in the county.

“And so what safe parking is, it gives a place where the County and cities have worked together to dedicate a site that has access to hygiene, it has security overnight, so the person staying there feels more safe in the environment," Berg said.

There are currently three safe parking areas available throughout the county, but officials plan to create more. The hope is to have five safe parking spots created by this winter.

Berg said, “We're doing a temporary program and that should be launching later this week and then there'll be three additional sites, distributed throughout the region later this year.”

County officials say these pilot programs contribute to a broader vision. The Department of Social Services has a long-term, 10-year plan to end homelessness in San Luis Obispo County.

“I think people struggle with what resources make the best sense to put forward, and what my mind keeps going towards is by no means do I think these are the end all solutions,” Berg said.

The current safe parking locations are at 40 Prado and Railroad Square in San Luis Obispo, and at Saint Francis Church in Arroyo Grande.