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Soaring prices driving more people into homelessness on the Central Coast

Agencies across the county are now coming together to find solutions
Posted at 10:37 PM, Jun 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 02:51:18-04

The number of people living unhoused on the Central Coast continues to grow.

Agencies across the county are now coming together to find solutions.

Even though shelter capacity and access to services have expanded across San Luis Obispo County since 2019, the homeless population is growing much faster and non-profits say they are simply overwhelmed.

The soaring cost of living is pushing more people into homelessness on the Central Coast.

"We know that when people become homeless-- when they lose their home--they are in crisis and something in them breaks," said Janna Nichols, Executive Director for the 5Cities Homeless Coalition.

San Luis Obispo County's homeless population is growing-- increasing by at least 200 people a year since 2019, according to new data presented at a multi-agency forum on Wednesday.

"You need to understand, if you're sleeping on the street all the time, you've always got one ear open, I slept with a knife," said Brenda Mack, who is previously homeless and spoke at the forum.

The residual effects from living on the streets were front and center as people who used to be homeless described their experience getting out of it.

"The longer you are out there, the more your brain chemistry changes," said Mack. "So then, you're suddenly housed and you can't turn that off."

Advocates say there aren't enough resources. SLO County only has the capacity to shelter 20 to 30 percent of the homeless population at any given time.

"The vast majority of the unhoused population would prefer the sense of safety and self-worth, stability, security and the resources inherent with being housed compared to the stressful, degrading aspects of living on the streets," said Mark Krist who also spoke at the forum.

Agencies from across SLO County are coming together to address the growing issue.

A five-year plan in the works aims to cut the homeless population in half.

The first year, agencies hope to see a rapid buildup up temporary housing such as pallet shelters, cabins and tiny homes.

The next phase is expanding mental health and substance abuse services while establishing a regional operations center.

The ultimate goal is to fine-tune the system and ramp up affordable housing.

"The more barriers you can help take down helps someone get forward faster," said ECHO CEO Wendy Lewis.

The 2019 point-in-time survey found nearly 1,500 hundred homeless people county-wide.

We are waiting on this year's numbers, but they're expected to climb.