The city of San Luis Obispo forced dozens of homeless individuals living in an encampment by the Bob Jones biking and walking trail to leave early on May 18, leading to concerns among some local homeless advocates about safety and human rights violations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
City officials and SLO police officers notified residents of the Bob Jones camp on May 12 that they would have to leave the area within the week, according to Deputy City Manager Greg Hermann, who said the decision was in response to "significant health and safety concerns" at the camp. On May 18, the city dismantled the encampment, removed the trash and waste that had accumulated in the area, and told remaining residents to move along.
Becky Jorgeson is the founder and president of Hope's Village of SLO, a nonprofit that advocates for people experiencing homelessness. Jorgeson and her staff deliver food to residents of the longstanding Bob Jones camp daily, some who have lived there for nearly 15 years. Now they've all left the area and many can't be located.
"The excuse is that [the city] warned people," Jorgeson said. "Well there's nowhere else for them to go."
Although the city brought along social workers and 40 Prado Homeless Services staff to connect Bob Jones residents to services and get them placed in the Prado shelter, Jorgeson said only about 25 of the 50 to 70 regulars at camp were actually contacted by city officials. And Jorgeson said a lot of people with severe mental health and substance abuse issues have difficulties getting into and staying at Prado, which she said has stringent entry rules.
There is one place individuals experiencing homelessness could go, Jorgenson said. In late March, the county secured four motels and several trailers where homeless individuals with COVID-19 can quarantine and heal. But Jorgeson said there haven't been many known cases of coronavirus among the local homeless population, and the county confirmed that those beds aren't being used.
Unfortunately, she said, the county won't house just anyone there.
So now Hope's Village of SLO is housing several individuals in a local motel, including S, a single mother of a 4-month-old who has long struggled with homelessness. S, who New Times is identifying by her first initial, recently ended a relationship with her son's abusive father, who she said struggles with substance abuse and threatened to kill her and take her son.
For weeks now S said she's been trying to get help from the various shelters and services in SLO without luck. RISE SLO, which offers assistance to survivors of intimate partner violence, couldn't take her because of her history of homelessness, she said. RISE said that while it does take some women experiencing homelessness, the shelter is often at capacity and there typically has to be a direct link between the homelessness and domestic violence.
Then S stayed at Prado for a few nights but was kicked out for a night after a minor violation. S eventually found the Bob Jones camp early last week, but after a day there, she found out that she'd have to leave soon.
"I'm just trying to get somewhere stable for us," S told New Times.
City officials say they did their best to warn Bob Jones residents of the coming closure and help them find another place to stay.
In an email that was forwarded to New Times, Police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the city offered all residents beds at the 40 Prado homeless shelter and to hold personal belongings for residents for up to 90 days.
CAPSLO (Community Action Partnership of SLO) Deputy Director Grace McIntosh said she sent one of her staff members down to the Bob Jones camp to connect with residents and offer them space in 40 Prado. Of the roughly 25 people contacted, about 18 were eligible to come to the shelter whenever they wanted. McIntosh said 10 had no interest, and eight said they'd come in, but only a few have.
Right now, Prado is only accepting SLO County locals and individuals who have sought CAPSLO services before. Those measures are intended to keep numbers lower in the shelter to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. There haven't been any positive cases in the shelter so far, but McIntosh said only three individuals have met the criteria required to get tested. McIntosh plans to open Prado back up as usual on June 1 if all goes to plan. Until then, she said Bob Jones residents who meet Prado's entry criteria are welcome there.
"We all need to understand that none of us has the answer for every single person and the more we can work together in a positive way together the better." Δ