Is homelessness getting better in SLO County?
That was the question debated at the SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 6, when supervisors took a look at the state of homelessness and reviewed its strategies to curb it.
The 2017 Point-in-Time Count (done over 24 hours on a rainy day in January) showed some progress on homelessness. The count found 31 percent fewer unsheltered homeless individuals than the last count in 2015—down from 1,123 to 780. It also found 47 fewer sheltered individuals.
While that result may have been encouraging, other trends aren’t as rosy. Federal funding available to countywide organizations for “supportive services,” like case management for homeless individuals, is diminishing. Nearly all of the $435,000 usually allocated to the county for case management has evaporated, due to a paradigm shift at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development toward a “housing first” model.
But because SLO has a major housing shortage, it’s hard to always put to use the housing funds it gets. Meanwhile, case management for homeless individuals seeking services for the first time is fading away.
The Community Action Partnership of SLO (CAPSLO) lost funding for all three of its case managers serving South County, and case managers in SLO decreased from three to two, according to CAPSLO Deputy Director Grace McIntosh.
“The whole county lost those dollars,” McIntosh told New Times. “We’re all seeing changes in how we’re going to be working with our clients.”
SLO County supervisors voiced differing interpretations of the issue at the meeting. Supervisor Debbie Arnold (5th District), who chairs the county Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC), said she thought the Point-in-Time Count demonstrated that the county’s approach to homelessness was proving to be effective.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvements,” Arnold said. “I attribute that to all the work and dedication in this county.”
But 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill wasn’t as impressed. He grilled Homeless Services Director Laurel Weir about what he felt were deficiencies in how the county was measuring the results. Hill wanted to look at more factors, like the stresses on emergency services and law enforcement.
“I don’t think we’re measuring success and outcomes as best as we can,” he said. “I think there are outcomes we’re still not looking at. There are a lot of things we’re not having a handle on.”
Weir responded that “looking at data across the systems” showed that homelessness in SLO County was declining.
The board then voted 3-2, with Arnold and Supervisor John Peschong (1st District) dissenting, to ask HSOC for policy recommendations on the needs for more housing, case management services, and varied methods to measure homelessness.
“HSOC has been curiously quiet, frankly,” 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said. “I hope they raise their profile because they have the folks who are on the front lines.”