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Housing first

SLO should take a cue from cities that have successfully offered up solutions to homelessness

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This is the first time I have written to the paper, but Shredder's "Kick 'em when they're down" piece (April 22) really riled me up. I am absolutely ashamed and astonished at the total lack of compassion or solutions for our unhoused residents. Shredder hit the nail on the head over and over in the column. I live a block from Mitchell Park, and over the past year have dropped by the park regularly to bring the residents socks, food, and clothes/shoes. And just before that big storm hit in February, I brought blankets and warnings about just how much rain was expected and they might want to move tents to higher ground.

These are just regular people! They deserve to have a decent place to live inside! You know, they're not all criminal drug addicts and alcoholics (though if I had to live outside, I'd probably turn to drugs and alcohol, too). Some are families, some had good jobs but no savings cushion when the pandemic struck, some have shattering mental problems, some were just one month away from homelessness when they got sick and could no longer afford rent anymore.

Or how about the tiny hunched over old lady who has two wheeled suitcases holding her belongings. She's gotta be at least 80 years old. I see her around downtown a lot. Here's how she handles moving from place to place: She pushes one suitcase up a block, then walks back to get the other suitcase, and then wheels it up to the other one. Over and over and over until she gets where she's going. I've asked her twice if I can help her, and she declines, telling me these are too heavy for me (a tall strong middle-aged woman) to handle! Then she just keeps going. My God, we can't find a place for her?

On my daily walk a few days ago, I was stunned to see absolutely no one at the park, and all the regulars gone. I burst into tears. Where did they go? Why was this done? Were housing solutions offered by the city? I was angry and sad. The level of NIMBYism in this town is truly disgusting:

"Hey, lets allow developers to build fancy hotels that cost $500/night and giant new neighborhoods that no one will be able to afford, but as for those drug addicted pieces of shit in the park—just get rid of them, whatever you have to do."

And it's not just the SLO City Council and other government offices that continue to ignore the problem or just make sweeps every now and then, it's the residents of our "happy" city who live in million-dollar, 1,200-square-foot houses and 5,000-square-foot mansions who also just want them gone. If they even have a thought about the homeless crisis, they just pat themselves on the back and say, "Well we have Prado. Why don't they just go there?" As if one facility could fix all of the problems! Oh and these human beings who are sheltering downtown cannot even get to Prado unless they walk 3 miles, pushing their now illegal shopping carts that hold all their meager belongings. Even if they did get there (which many don't want to go for reasons I can't get into right now), it might be full, or not accepting new arrivals! People, is there no way to provide a shuttle to those who want it?

But let's get to the real root of the problem. Housing! It has been shown in many more kind cities than SLO that people who have even the simplest type of reliable home (tiny houses, revamped hotels, legal tent cities with facilities) actually begin to thrive. Add social services to it for rehab, mental wellness help, job searching services, etc., and they might even (gasp!) be productive, happy citizens!

This city now has a huge amount of government money to use to help the people of SLO. What are they going to do about the unhoused people of this city/county? How much of that money will be applied to those whose voices, needs, and circumstances are basically ignored? And regulations continue to pass that are punitive and discriminatory toward these humans! There are better solutions.

Under housing-first programs, homeless people need not meet any criteria to qualify for housing. Even if they are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, they can get a place to stay. They are of course expected to stay in touch with social workers, but other than that, not much is required of them. They are even permitted to stay in these places for the rest of their lives! People cope better with their problems when they have a roof over their heads. Controlling addictions and alcoholism has been found to be much easier when given housing. Not having a place to stay only makes matters worse. The same is true for practically every other social problem.

There are many cities that have successful programs for housing. Don't reinvent the wheel, study other cities' successes, and let's take action SLO in implementing these kinds of housing solutions.

1. Houston, Texas: Implements housing first, "a revolutionary idea when it was housing first, a revolutionary idea when it was introduced in the 1990s because it didn't require homeless people to fix their problems before getting permanent housing. Instead, its premise—since confirmed by years of research—was that people are better able to address their individual problems when basic needs, such as food and a place to live, are met," according to the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism.

2. Salt Lake City, Utah: The state of Utah has also been doing well with housing first. It has solved its homeless crisis by also handing people a house first.

3. Columbus, Ohio: The city has a 70 percent rate of successful housing results.

4. North Hollywood just opened a tiny house village, Alexandria Park, that has 103 windowed units and 200 beds at a cost of $8,000 each including two beds, heat, air conditioning, a small desk, and a door that can be locked. "Residents in the colorful villages get meals and have access to showers, laundry facilities, case management, housing navigation, mental health help, and job training and placement, according to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission," as reported by KTLA. Δ

Savana Rose Woods has been living in SLO for three years. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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