The County Giveth and the County Taketh Away
It was dismaying news recently when hearing that the safe parking community on Oklahoma Avenue near the Sheriff’s office in SLO County was going to close. Wasn’t it just a short time ago that everyone was hollering that something had to be done to remove the “squatters” residing in their RVs and cars on Palisades Avenue in Los Osos? And wasn’t that happening because at that time they had been evicted from parking at the South Bay Community Center, a site established for them during the pandemic? What is the matter with this county? You can’t keep offering shelter help to the homeless and then turn around and pull the rug out from under them.
Let’s face it folks. There is no affordable housing available. Heck, there is no housing at all available – well, unless you can prove that you earn three times the exorbitant rents being asked. And God forbid that you have a dog or a cat. There is no place at all whether one can afford it or not if you have a pet. Renters are being overwhelmingly discriminated against. Let’s just face the fact. Unless you are relatively wealthy and can purchase the overpriced houses for sale on the Central Coast of California, you are just out of luck. Renters may not realize it, but they have joined the crowds of the victimized black, brown, Hispanic, foreign of any persuasion, Jewish, women, gays, and trans brothers and sisters of this world. If you can only be a renter, you aren’t worth much. And God forbid if you’ve reached homelessness.
If you are homeless, you are just like Joseph and Mary and the unborn Jesus facing “no room at the inn.” But even they were able to rent a stable to house themselves and their donkey. Today we might see them approaching Oklahoma Avenue in their beat-up recreational vehicle and once again being turned away. Exactly what does the county think the 75 or so people living in their RVs and cars can do if this site shuts down permanently? And why does it have to?
This isn’t just an issue for the already homeless, but for existing renters too since even with the legal protections that exist, evictions are still happening, and many renters are ending up homeless.
There were problems with the Oklahoma Avenue Village from the git-go. For one thing it was rushed into being without any planning due to the outrage of citizens who wanted the “squatters” on Palisades Avenue removed so they could go to the South Bay Community Center or the library or the catholic church on that street without having to encounter the undesirables living in their vehicles. Many people said the Village was set up for failure on purpose, so the county could say that it had tried. Well, sure. Without sufficient personnel to vet the people applying to stay there, make sure there were rules and regulations in place and adhered to, troublemakers using drugs and alcohol were able to park there. A woman lost her life in an RV fire there because a drug pusher gave her a dose of fentanyl the night before she died. He was witnessed leaving her place at six in the morning. It wasn’t candles that did her in, it was bad management.
While certain things improved over time and case managers from CAPSLO came in to assist the people looking for housing and a food pantry was set up, some issue prevailed.
Becky Jorgeson, of Hope’s Village is a long-time proponent tackling the issue of homelessness. Her organization seeks out available recreational vehicles to give to homeless veterans as well as championing a solution for all unhoused individuals. Safe parking and warming centers are high on her list of most needed facilities. Over time she has sent out 42,624 emails on housing issues, 99% of which are regarding homelessness. She has offered Hope’s Village help over and over again, given 100 presentations on how they can help, received recognition from federal and state officials, and grown a $5000 Community Foundation of SLO’s grant to over $385,000. She’s asked time and again to be allowed to have the opportunity to prove how Hope’s Village could run that safe parking facility. Instead, some county administrator decided that closing it was a solution. That seems to be the story for the homeless – just giving up.