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The biggest problem

An open letter to the city of San Luis Obispo



For many years, we've been trying hard to help the San Luis Obispo City Council understand the horrific conditions of the thousands of people in SLO who have no housing and live on our streets—especially the women, children and veterans. We try to explain that everyone needs income to get housing—even subsidized housing. We worked to explain that not everyone can get Supplemental Security Income or State Disability Insurance or Veterans Affairs benefits, even though they may be in need and eligible.

We have made personal appearances at city council meetings, hosted presentations on tiny-home villages, given 88 talks, and written numerous emails citing what other cities are doing to help unhoused people; advised what the laws are (and are not). We took you to the creek, Mayor Heidi Harmon. We hoped it would have an impact.

We tried to get you to abolish the ordinance of ticketing unhoused people for sleeping outside, since this is where they are forced to be, many through no fault of their own. Sleep is their civil and human right. To deprive someone is no less than torture. Now, thanks to a compassionate judge in Idaho, sleeping in public places is no longer illegal.

We asked why law enforcement was forcing our unhoused neighbors to leave city parks when a social event of yours was happening.

Please don't believe for a moment that we've reduced homelessness in our area; there weren't enough volunteers to cover all areas during the Point In Time Count of two years ago. And please don't think many of our unhoused people here are out-of-towners. That's a huge misnomer. When City Hall can't even call homelessness a priority, why would anyone seeking help want to come? (We keep stats at showers, most of our guests are local home-grown folks born and raised right here in SLO County.)

We believe you care—and we thank you for legalizing tiny homes on wheels in backyards. This, however, won't help many (if any) of our unhoused folks.

Please know that homelessness is this city's biggest problem. Potlucks, coffee chats, and newsletters won't solve the problem. No, many unhoused people don't vote, pay taxes, or show up at council meetings. They have little if any income, and aren't any help to politicians. It breaks my heart that we didn't hear the word "homelessness" once during mid-term elections, and certainly not from the federal government.

We explained to you all that when we open our model sustainable community village, we'll get 50-plus more chronically unhoused people (who have little or no income) off the streets and into tiny safe and warm cabins on wheels. We'll save the taxpayers $2 million on an annual basis. And this village will serve as a model for the rest of our county, state, and nation to follow.

We often hear about infrastructure. We have no infrastructure with so many people downtown begging for food or sleeping in the corridors in the early morning hours, trying to stay warm and dry. (Downtown SLO is beginning to look like San Francisco.) Or our hundreds of people living along the creek trying to get a little bit of privacy, with rats chewing at their tents, if they are lucky enough have tents.

Imagine our surprise and dismay to learn that our unhoused people are not a priority of City Hall. Their basic human needs aren't as important as bike baths, enormous new hotels downtown with pools on the roof, or plastic straws. How long do you think it'll take tourists to figure this out, too?

It's a slap in the face to those who work so hard at reducing homelessness in our town, to those of us who constantly go to encampments passing out sleeping bags, tents, tarps, and food—in the rain—listening to their stories, trying to offer "hope." To volunteers who are now picking up trash on the Bob Jones Trail because the city won't. Volunteers who offer showers, clean clothes, and "hope" to our folks who can't go elsewhere to get clean, since SLO has no public showers and never has. Doing the city's job on our dime and our time.

A fellow homeless advocate recently told me that he sees some of the same people living down by the creek today who he saw there 16 years ago when he began doing outreach. We can't even shelter people properly, let alone house them.

It's been said that City Hall isn't representing or serving the people, but their own priorities. And I take issue with that. Please. We are counting on you to do your job. Represent all the people of SLO. Δ

Becky Jorgeson is the founder of Hope's Village SLO. Send thoughts through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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