Among the bustle of trash collection, folding tents, and foot traffic from patrolling law enforcement, a man and a woman held each other and softly wept. Homeless, they now had a few hours to gather everything they owned and leave.
San Luis Obispo police officers and park rangers, and a 2Mexicans Junk Removal truck were clearing another homeless encampment. This time, early on Jan. 7, along the Bob Jones Trail near Prado Road. City officials said they closed the trail to the public from Prado to Los Osos Valley Road to reduce wildfire risk and rebuild fencing. They expect to reopen it on March 4.
But the grassy knoll they focused on that morning also served as home to a handful of SLO's transient population, who said they were tired of the constant shuffle.
- Photo By Bulbul Rajagopal
- CLEARING OUT A garbage clearing company called 2Mexicans Junk Removal swept the Bob Jones Trail area for items belonging to the homeless that were considered trash.
"I feel like I'm cattle, [being told to] move here, move there," said David Phillips, a homeless evacuee. "They still won't give us any place and say, 'Here's where you can go.'"
Phillips pointed out the crying couple while smoking a cigarette and sipping coffee he received from the nonprofit Hope's Village. Hope's Village does outreach work for the unhoused community in SLO, and its staff had showed up to hand out food and drinks. It's founder Becky Jorgeson told New Times why several homeless people, like Phillips, are hesitant to seek temporary shelter from Community Action Partnership SLO (CAPSLO).
"The women's shelter is full, but they're [CAPSLO] not full, because no one wants to go there, because their rules are so inconsistent," she said.
Phillips added that CAPSLO once turned him away by saying he wasn't sober.
"I smoked a little bit of medical marijuana but I didn't test positive for drugs. They use the sober excuse to keep people out," Phillips said. "I don't have much in life, but I'd like a place to rest my head."
Lawren Ramos, CAPSLO's community program director, who spoke to New Times over the phone, said that sobriety isn't a requirement to qualify for CAPSLO sheltering.
"We are a drug-free and alcohol-free facility ... but we're more than willing to work with someone who's under the influence. We're not gonna turn someone away just because they're under the influence, as long as they can keep themselves safe," Ramos said.
Ramos said that the 40 Prado shelter experienced an increase in intake over the weekend of the evacuation as well as the week prior to it.
"The solutions are as numerous as the people experiencing homelessness. We're willing to be flexible to a point; we still have to maintain the overall structure of the program. Being able to meet people where they're at is always our goal," Ramos said.
Phillips said that the homeless community at the trail was notified to move two days in advance of the clear-out, but he's anticipating frequent relocations in his future.
"The homeless problem is not leaving," he said. "Wherever we're moved to, I guarantee you we'd be moved again the next day."
Kelsey Nocket, the city's homelessness response manager, said that the evacuation notices detailed an option that would provide 90 days of storage for items people couldn't immediately carry with them. A community action team (CAT)—comprising a police officer and a social worker—informed Nocket that they visited each of the 26 campsites and alerted the homeless about available resources.
"If somebody is amenable to receiving services, that includes emergency shelter or available housing resources, we do everything in our power to make sure access is made available," Nocket told New Times on Jan. 10.
Nocket added she wasn't aware whether any of the unhoused residents who were cleared out had contacted the city since the move. She said she spent the majority of Jan. 7 touring CAPSLO's 40 Prado shelter with a homeless person and the city attorney. However, the homeless person declined to take shelter there.
Phillips had a similar reaction during the Jan. 7 clear-out. A city park ranger asked Phillips and some of his friends if they wanted her to call 40 Prado on their behalf for shelter. They refused. Δ