On April 5, Michelle Mansker received a worrying message in the early afternoon.
"I got a text around 2:45 from one of the unhoused people in Mitchell Park, and it was saying something was going on, the cops were there, and could I come down," Mansker, who volunteers with SLO Street Medics, said. "I got to the park at about 3, and the officers were still there, the person was still there at the time."
- FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO CITY
- TRAGEDY The second death of a homeless person in less than two months occurred in Mitchell Park on April 5.
The person—a man who Mansker knew through her outreach work giving hygiene supplies, food, and connecting SLO's houseless population with resources—was lying on the ground at the park with officers around him. Earlier in the afternoon, she said, someone noticed him lying there, and went to check on him.
"He was snoring, and so they put a pillow underneath him," she said. "They came back to check on him 10 minutes later, and he wasn't breathing."
So they called 911.
It's the second houseless person in less than two months who's died at Mitchell Park, Mansker said. She spoke at the San Luis Obispo City Council meeting the next night, asking the city what it was going to do to address what she called a drug crisis.
"I don't know if this was drug-related or what, but I do know there has been numerous overdoses in the unhoused population. There are a lot of drugs laced with fentanyl," she said during public comment. "Fentanyl is very deadly."
People who aren't using opioids, she said, don't expect to be taking fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is often cut into other drugs.
Tim Jouet, who volunteers with Food Not Bombs SLO, told the City Council that he was going to miss Donald, who passed away in Mitchell Park on April 5. He was a guy who lived in SLO for many years and just loved the city, Jouet said.
"Mitchell Park isn't going to be the same," he said. "It's pretty sad what's going on with people going missing and dropping like flies. ... I'm just really sad about what's going on in our public spaces."
On Feb. 21, a passerby found Kevin Dobarer, a houseless man, dead on the sidewalk at Mitchell Park. Mansker told New Times she was unsure whether Dobarer's death was associated with drug use, but she said that there have been a number of nonlethal overdoses at the same park, which were stopped using Narcan, a medication that can reverse the affects of fentanyl. Organizations such as the SLO Street Medics and SLO Bangers often provide Narcan to the unhoused population, and she said she has received requests for more of it.
San Luis Obispo Interim Police Chief Jeff Smith told New Times that there's currently no evidence of an increase in overdoses among the homeless population. Smith added that the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office coroner is responsible for determining the cause of death, and hasn't provided the police department with info on the Mitchell Park deaths at this time.
Mansker said the only person during the April 5 City Council meeting who really acknowledged the deaths in Mitchell Park was City Manager Derek Johnson.
"It's always unfortunate, we've heard, when a member of our unhoused population passes away," he said, adding that the county and city were currently working on getting a detox facility approved that would be sited next to the 40 Prado shelter run by CAPSLO (Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo). "Part of a long-term effort of a huge gap that we have in our community. This facility is not going to be enough, we know it's not going to be enough, but it's a step in the right direction."
Johnson also said that much of the work the city has done over the past decade is focused around a service model that encourages people to go to 40 Prado, where there's a medical facility, counselors, and other services. The city has tried to move people out of parks and encourage them to go to the shelter.
The shelter currently has 22 to 28 available beds, he said.
Mansker told New Times that the availability of beds at the shelter should tell the city something. SLO needs to diversify the types of service provided to the houseless population, because 40 Prado isn't necessarily a place that some people trust. She said the city and county need to do more to help prevent overdoses among the houseless population, including outreach and education about fentanyl.
"The fact that someone passed away in a city park twice in the past, what, two or three months, and that nothing is being done about it, it really breaks my heart," Mansker said. "These are people. You know, their lives matter." Δ