Residents at Kansas Village packed up all their belongings hoping for a fresh start.
“I was in my car for almost two years. Now I have a trailer that was donated to me, and I'm very grateful, but this is not an ideal situation,” said Diane Williams, who moved from Los Osos to the county's safe parking site just five days ago.
Williams is adjusting to life at what's become known as Kansas Village, located near Highway 1 and Kansas Avenue in San Luis Obispo.
“We went to Palisades Avenue until we were booted out,” Williams added.
In early 2020, the county designated three spots in Los Osos, Oceano, and San Luis Obispo as safe overnight parking spots.
After multiple complaints coming from residents in Los Osos, the county decided to prohibit overnight camping in Los Osos.
“The object is not to fine people, the object is to get their vehicles relocated to a better place,” said San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson.
The new safe parking site on Kansas Avenue was launched by the county a couple of months ago with about 30 spots. It has now expanded to about 80 spaces. However, it is only for unhoused residents with a vehicle.
“We provide towing service in case the vehicle doesn’t work and vouchers to put fuel in their vehicles to get to Kansas,” Gibson explained.
The county is collaborating with organizations such as the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO) to provide mental health resources and job training opportunities.
“They sign an agreement that I think puts forward a total of 28 days there, but we are able to renew that agreement,” Gibson added. “We will want to work to a program where we are providing the right services to get these folks into a better housing situation.”
Volunteers said the Kansas Village is reaching capacity.
“Kansas Village gives people a legal place to be where they can get their lives backs on track, so we are working hard to make it successful, make it stable,” said Tim Waag, who volunteers at Kansas Village along with multiple organizations such as Hope’s Village and the SLO Food Bank.
With a number of residents settling and the pilot program still getting tweaked, Waag said there is a need for improvements for this program to become a role model for future projects.
“It’s about to get dark at 5, there’s tons of kids and it’s pitch black at night,” added Waag. “You can imagine lighting is needed.”
Residents are rounding up, hoping to build a community.
“Campsites have hosts; apartments have managers,” said Nicholas Watson, who lives at Kansas Village.
Watson and Williams are introducing themselves to their neighbors and are looking to create a committee to get things fixed more quickly, starting with bathrooms.
“Trash being taken out more regularly, more restrooms, better showers. There’s more than 60 cars; there’s more than 60 people,” concluded Williams. “This is not going to work.”
In a statement, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said no fines will be issued.
“We have our Community Action Team (CAT) Deputies (who deal exclusively with the homeless communities and those with mental health issues) along with County Behavioral Health Technicians to offer available services and resources to those who need to relocate as well as provide information on alternative housing options,” said Tony Cipolla, public information officer with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.
Supervisor Gibson said the county is working to allocate more resources to Kansas Village catered to the needs of these unhoused individuals as well as more outreach to residents who do not own a vehicle and remain in Los Osos.