With tens of thousands of people living on the streets of California, the homelessness crisis is not slowing down, but a San Luis Obispo city grant aims to help alleviate the problem in the downtown area.
The last Point-in-Time count found around 400 unsheltered individuals in San Luis Obispo. Bettina Swigger, CEO of Downtown SLO, believes that number has changed with the pandemic.
“We have obviously known that there has been an uptick in people who are experiencing homelessness," Swigger said. "And that affects our district.”
To address this problem, the city of San Luis Obispo is providing a $30,000 one-year grant to Downtown SLO and CAPSLO, or the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.
The money will pay for helping to provide services for homeless individuals in the downtown area.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, this is a tough population," Grace McIntosh of CAPSLO said. "These are folks that clearly know the services available and there is a variety of reasons why they are not availing themselves of it.”
The grant will also pay for a part-time social outreach worker to walk downtown streets, said McIntosh. But, she says, it’s not an easy task of just handing out pamphlets.
“First, you have to build relationships," McIntosh said. "That can take a long time.”
McIntosh said the outreach worker will have to develop trust, and figure out why a person is living on the streets, and to not give up.
“If they choose for whatever reason in that point in time ‘I’m not interested in going to Prado or getting housing or other services,'" McIntosh said. "It doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying, because the answer today may be different tomorrow.”
Swigger said the second goal is starting a pilot program called “Social Enterprise.”
“The idea is that when someone is going through a hard time you can give them a little bit of help, by giving them a job with some regular hours,” Swigger said.
Jobs would include cleaning up the downtown area by picking up litter, emptying the trash and removing graffiti.
“They’ll be part of the solution," Swigger said. "Instead of being part of the group that maybe is causing some of the problems.”
Although it's a one-year grant, both organizations hope it yields enough progress to convince the city to continue the funding.