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League of Women Voters hosts webinar on homelessness; plans outlined to address crisis

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The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors highlighted homelessness as a key priority for this fiscal year.

San Luis Obispo County’s League of Women Voters hosted its final Lunch with the League webinar on homelessness June 21.

This was the fifth webinar in the series meant to engage leaders and the public in the issue of homelessness.

Local policymakers and service providers offered solutions to address the crisis.

San Luis Obispo County Social Services staffer Carolyn Berg presented an overview of the county’s regional plans to improve the lives of the unhoused.

Berg said over the next 10 years, Social Services has plans to develop and implement more pilot programs, improve the level of engagement and communication with the unhoused community and prioritize housing efforts.

“That’s in addition to the many, many really important individual organizations’ service and housing efforts that are underway,” Berg said.

Janna Nichols of the Five Cities Homeless Coalition spoke in a panel during the webinar. Nichols said physical housing is the first priority but a spectrum of services are needed to address the individual needs of every unhoused person.

“The spectrum of services starts with housing because that’s ultimately what we want people to do,” Nichols said. “But we have to be prepared and respond proactively along the continuum of services that are needed and that, I think, is something that we’re challenged by.”

Berg said building on programs like Safe Parking, that allows individuals with vehicles to park safely overnight, or the Blue Bag program that is meant to help people clean up the space they live in and connect them with necessary services, are some of the ways they can widen the scope of available services.

Nichols said the problem of homelessness isn’t getting better, despite the efforts underway to address it. She said a lack of affordable housing and livable wages in the county plays a huge role.

“When you have more than one third of your income being spent on housing and life support, you are at risk of homelessness,” Nichols said. Yes, it’s getting worse for that very reason.”

Devin Drake is the director for the Department of Social Services. He said low-income housing opportunities can help alleviate this issue, but residents often express concern about seeing it in their neighborhood.

He said education could improve how people see their unhoused neighbors.

“I think one of the biggest things we need to do is help people understand these individuals,” Drake said. “I would suggest — start volunteering. Get out there. Just talk to them and look them in the eyes.”

More than 40 nonprofits, government agencies and businesses in SLO County are partnering with Social Services to support and sustain services for people experiencing homelessness.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors highlighted homelessness as a key priority for this fiscal year.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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