Letter to Supervisor Gibson

First, I would like to acknowledge that homelessness in a city, town, and/or community is complicated and difficult to address — thoughtfully.  That being said, the homeless encampment behind (west of) the Los Osos library parking area has been there for months, and it is growing. So is the homeless population along Palisades Avenue, and around the Los Osos Library and Community Center.

There are, of course, a number of problematic issues that are becoming increasingly more evident, such as toileting (sanitation); the accumulation of trash in and around the library; and signs of drug usage. I have contacted the Sheriff’s department on several occasions and have been informed there is a resource officer, but apparently there is not much the Sheriff can do.

It is apparent this issue is not simply going to go resolve itself.  I am writing to ask how the County of San Luis Obispo plans to address this growing issue.

Watson Gooch
Los Osos

Gibson’s Response

Watson, thanks for you note, and I understand the concern. In the interest of getting you a prompt response, please allow me to paste a response I sent earlier to another concerned citizen. I’m sure there will be a larger community conversation on this in coming weeks. I’ll be happy to talk with you more about it in the future.

Indeed we have heard from several people — expressing both concern and a desire to help out — about the encampment and vehicle parking near the library.
We are certainly aware of the concerns that are raised by the fact people are living under these conditions: Fire danger is near the top of the list, along with public health and environmental impacts to both the pubic right of way and the Mid-Town land parcel, and other public safety issues that have been addressed by the Sheriff’s Office. We have reached to relevant staff in various departments for their assessment of the current situation and ideas for mitigating it.

Specifically, we have contacted the local fire authorities who confirm their concern for the fire threat. They feel that there are more serious problems in the Salinas River bed and Oceano, but we all understand that the fire threat is real. That public safety issue will be an important part of efforts to move campers off Mid-Town in a manner that is acceptable under Martin v. Boise.

The Sherriff’s Office has stepped up patrols to deter criminal behavior and the Sheriff’s Community Action Team (CAT) is aware of the situation and working to connect people with services and a path to permanent housing. The challenge of finding an alternative site to live remains. The CAT deputy also reports that most of the people staying near the library have been in Los Osos for some time (many parking in other neighborhoods in the community) and he has had previous contact with them. His most recent report suggests some progress in getting folks to accept services.

Please know that Los Osos is not alone in facing the issue of homeless encampments. I am trying to leverage the fact that this is a countywide problem to bring more resources to bear here. I’m seeing some interest in this: the Homeless Services Oversight Council is forming a working group under their Encampments Subcommittee to look at solutions. I’ve contacted our budget office to explain the problem and see if we direct/redirect funds toward programs that can address this.

I realize that many will be frustrated with the time it will take to mitigate this problem. The constraints of Martin v. Boise are real — as you know, we can’t simply move people off these public spaces unless we have a place for them to go. The cost of providing such a place is daunting in our current financial situation, as that facility must be managed to accomplish the objective and protect health and safety. No one wants to hear that from their government, but this is our current reality. I am advocating on this and I know others have similar concerns.

In the meantime, we will address the health and safety issues as we’re able in the short term. We obviously need to get campers out of the brush, so that is a top priority. We will be talking about how toilets and showers (properly managed) fit into the public health impacts. I appreciate the compassion of those who are working to provide food and other support to those living in such difficult circumstances.

Please know that both Blake [ Fixler, legislative assistant – District Two] and I are working on this. I think there is an effort to convene a virtual town hall through LOCAC that can discuss these issues further.

Bruce Gibson
Supervisor, District 2

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