Early next month I will meet with representatives from various agencies around the county regarding the issue of homelessness. It is estimated that some 200 to 400 people in Paso Robles have nowhere permanent to live. Many more than that are living precariously from day to day. Recently I had a conversation with people from local organizations that assist the homeless, County social service representatives, law enforcement and others. I asked one simple question:
Is the way we are addressing the needs of the homeless in Paso Robles the best we can do?
The answer was a unanimous “no.”
Currently there is no official homeless shelter in our city. Worse than that, we don’t even have a warming station where people can get out of the cold when the temperature drops to freezing and below. There are those, notably the People’s Kitchen and Loaves & Fishes, who try to provide food for those in desperate need. For some on the street this is enough. For others, it is not. Those who have graver needs are advised to go to Atascadero or San Luis Obispo. It’s no surprise they don’t do that. If you can’t eat you probably have few transportation resources.
Early next month I will meet again with a wider circle of agencies to discuss a new idea. Instead of directing those in need to facilities far away, we will discuss the possibility of bringing critical services to the needy. This once-a-month MASH (Mobile Alternative Services for the Homeless) plan could help service agencies more efficiently target and assist the needy. I hope to be able to initiate a 90-day pilot program to see if that is true. I have not, to date, offered any city resources other than my own time and committee meeting facility at City Hall.
There are those who balk at the idea of efforts to assist the homeless. While it is true that there are those who are unwilling or not ready to accept services, there are others who need our help. Keeping them from freezing when it gets cold and at least making an effort to connect them with already existing services seems, to me, to be the right thing to do.
If, after our planning meeting next month, it is decided to attempt this pilot program I will keep you informed on the success or failure of the strategy. Worst case: we will make a good faith effort to improve the way we assist the needy. Best case: we will find an positive alternative to the way we’ve always done things and be able to make a real difference in the lives of people who need and deserve our help.
Until next we blog, here’s to you Paso Robles!