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SLO County leaders discuss solutions for unhoused community members on public land

Paso Robles Police Department

The unhoused population has increased greatly since the start of the pandemic nationwide and here on the Central Coast. The latest Point-In-Time Count estimates about 1,400 unsheltered people in San Luis Obispo County.

A group of San Luis Obispo leaders talked publicly March 28 about how the unhoused community interacts with local public spaces.

The League of Women Voters hosted a ‘Lunch with the League’ conversation with the goal of addressing how San Luis Obispo County can use its public lands to benefit both housed and unhoused individuals.

San Luis Obispo city staff who manage homelessness response said conflicts often arise when unhoused people do things like sleep in public spaces that may also be used for other purposes.

But local unhoused community advocate Tim Waag said resolving these kinds of conflicts is simple.

Unhoused community members shelter at 40 Prado during a winter rain storm
Rachel Showalter
Unhoused community members shelter at 40 Prado during a winter rain storm

“Now when we’re specifically dealing with public lands, to me, the obvious answer is, 'Let’s use more of those public lands to house unhoused people,'” Waag said.

Waag said constructed community villages are one of the most proven solutions for reducing homelessness. He said although people often cite concerns about trash and criminal activity, cohousing communities across the West Coast have not seen those kinds of issues.

“They have less police calls than the surrounding residences simply because they built a culture of cooperation and being law-abiding, productive citizens within the village community,” Waag said.

Jon Ansolabehere is San Luis Obispo County’s Assistant Counsel. He said finding people permanent housing is important but he sees a need for transitional living areas and resources as well.

“There just needs to be this bridge housing between being in the public space and full housing with different levels of service,” Ansolabehere said.

Several public spaces in and around San Luis Obispo are being used right now to try to address the issue of homelessness. Some notable spots include the Oklahoma Village 24-hour safe parking site, the Railroad Square overnight safe parking area and 40 Prado Shelter.

You can visit the San Luis Obispo County League of Women Voters website to register for other conversations like this one. The next ‘Lunch with the League’ will discuss recent police reform laws in California on April 18.

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.