Will the photo lead SLO County to improve services for the homeless?
Sam Blakeslee was arrested at a traffic light in downtown San Luis Obispo in June when he saw a woman with her pants pulled down around her knees, evidently relieving herself in broad daylight.
Blakeslee – a former senator and state assembly member and chairman of financial planning firm Blakeslee and Blakeslee – took a photo.
Photo shows the unidentified woman squatting, with one arm on a planter for support. Her head is down and her face is not visible, but it is a heartbreaking scene nonetheless.
Blakeslee posted the photo on Facebook.
“So I apologize for this photo,” he wrote. “I struggled with whether to share or not.”
âThis is a photo of a homeless woman relieving herself in public at the intersection of Chorro and Monterey at the entrance to our Mission Plaza at 10 am this morning …â
“SLO City Council. Whether the answer is improved services or a stronger application, please take action to save our city and help these people!”
Photo of woman causes “raw torrent of emotions”
The photo has since come to life.
Blakeslee’s post generated nearly 100 comments, many of which criticized public agencies for not offering more services to the homeless.
âWould it have been difficult or inexpensive to put down a few Porta pots, a dumpster, maintain them regularly and inform the squatters that it is up to them to decide if they are allowed to stay? One person asked.
âIt appears to be a mental health issue,â said another commentator. âTo reduce this population, mental health must be made a priority with preventive and ongoing medical services and education. I hope there are people smarter than me who can make it happen.
Blakeslee later told The Tribune he was overwhelmed by the influx of comments.
âIt was a raw torrent of emotions that ranged from sadness and despair to frustration and anger,â he said. “What seems obvious to everyone is that we are in a battle that, frankly, we are losing – and no one wants SLO to deteriorate into another San Francisco or Venice Beach.”
KVEC radio host David Congalton, who devoted almost an entire segment to discussing the Blakeslee photo, had a similar response.
“My reaction to the photo was … OK, well, it’s just another day in Los Angeles or another day in San Diego or another day in San Francisco and it’s coming here now and damn it, let’s go. “Shall we do something about it or are we just going to repeat the problems these other cities are facing?” he asked his listeners.
Is the image worth 1000 words?
If a photo of a woman relieving herself so publicly can shock the powers that be by increasing services for homeless residents – if a photo is truly worth 1,000 words – then the end surely justifies the means.
But let’s be clear; this photograph alone does not mean that we are at a tipping point. This is a rare occurrence, which is exactly why Blakeslee posted this photo.
Yet there are many other signs that we need more services for people who are homeless.
Walk around downtown San Luis Obispo late at night or early in the morning and you will see people sleeping on the streets.
Check along the highway and you might spot an encampment.
What about that car parked next to you at Starbucks – the one with the sunshade on the front windshield, the towels covering the side windows and all that stuff piled up in the back? Chances are someone will live there.
In other words, if some of the good people in San Luis Obispo County aren’t already aware that homelessness is a problem here, they need to open their eyes.
What has been accomplished
In recent years, local government agencies – often with the help of nonprofits and private donations – have made strides in addressing homelessness issues.
40 The Prado homeless service shelter in San Luis Obispo is one example. Converting a Motel 6 in Paso Robles into an emergency shelter and permanent housing for low-income people is another.
There are programs that are not that visible, including some that help low-income families avoid eviction, find primary health care for them, or access mental health services.
Nonprofit organizations offer additional programs.
Hope’s Village, for example, has provided more than 100 recreational vehicles to homeless veterans. The group also operates a mobile shower program; runs an awareness program that provides food, sleeping bags and other basic necessities to people living on the streets; and helps reunite homeless people with their families. And if that’s not enough, group founder Becky Jorgeson remains committed to establishing a community of tiny houses that would provide permanent shelter.
Other help is coming. A drug rehab center – the first in the county to serve homeless and low-income clients – will soon open at Prado Campus 40.
The City of San Luis Obispo creates a mobile crisis unit with an ambulance driver and social worker to meet the needs of the homeless; the addition of beds at Shelter 40 Prado; and hired a new Homeless Response Manager. A drug rehabilitation center – the first in the county to serve homeless people and low-income clients – arrives at Prado campus 40.
Yet there are still unmet needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness. There probably isn’t even a one-size-fits-all solution.
It can be overwhelming, but it’s no excuse for paralysis – or to delay action until we embark on another study.
This issue has been sufficiently analyzed.
Remember the 10-year county-wide plan to end homelessness? He is now 12 years old and homelessness is still with us.
Now is the time to act, and we can and must tackle the most achievable goals first.
Here’s one: Let’s designate a campground in every large community where people can live without fear of being kicked out by authorities – something that often happens in San Luis Obispo County.
Certain areas are obviously unsuitable for camps, including sites where the risk of fire is high or where streams may be polluted. But it’s a big county.
Would it really be that difficult to designate places where basic services – including clean water, toilets, showers and shade – can be provided? Where could agencies provide medical help, counseling and other support services? Where could people take their pets?
Such campgrounds – sometimes called Safe Grounds – could accommodate tents, cars, RVs, and maybe even tiny houses on wheels. And, unlike most safe parking programs, residents could stay there all day.
A subcommittee of the San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services Oversight Council has studied the option and recommends opening âsanctioned campsâ across the county as a pilot project. The county supervisory board, however, has not approved this specific program.
At a meeting in May, the board approved a plan that includes two pilot programs. One is secure parking and the other is a âBlue Bagâ program which will provide garbage collection, sharps collection, basic hygiene services and outreach services to up to 10 existing camps. .
The board also approved the update to the 10-year plan to end homelessness and the development of a âcommunication and engagement strategyâ that would âincrease awareness of local homelessness and related challenges, as well as the services and resources available … “
Looks like the same old man, the same old man.
Do we really need a communications strategy to increase awareness of local homelessness?
And instead of spending the money on another study, why not use it for real services?
We have been studying, planning and forming committees and pontificating for at least 15 years, and there are still huge gaps in services. And frankly, some existing programs are not as successful as they could be.
We need to fill those gaps now, or as Sam Blakeslee predicted, we’ll become a miniature version of San Francisco or Venice Beach.
We cannot let this happen.
Now is the time to act boldly. We need to stop strategizing and start acting.