Finding the Path Home

Nearly 3,500 people are homeless in San Luis Obispo County at any given time over the course of a year. To address this, the County of San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors and staff strengthened relationships with community partners to implement the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.

Collaboration between agencies addressing homelessness reached an all-time high in 2014. The Board of Supervisors approved $3.4 million in new funds, staff managed several existing programs and services to encourage self-sufficiency, and together they worked with partner agencies to create innovative programs that help homeless families and individuals obtain permanent shelter.

New Program Tries ‘Housing First’ Approach

50 Now FurnitureAt the recommendation of staff and the Homeless Services Oversight Council (HSOC), the County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.9 million, three-year contract with Transitions Mental Health Association (TMHA) in August 2014 to implement a new program called 50Now.

The program provides housing for 50 of SLO County’s most vulnerable, chronically homeless individuals whose health conditions put them at increased risk of dying on the streets. By the end of the year, the 50Now placed 13 of the County’s most vulnerable homeless people into housing.

By focusing on housing these individuals, the County not only saves money on the services that the most vulnerable homeless persons in a community tend to use in a disproportionate amount, such as hospital and emergency room visits and ambulance transports, but the County is also giving them a better life.

50Now mirrors a national Housing and Urban Development (HUD) movement to provide housing first, followed by treatment and other essential services. Organized and funded by the County’s Department of Social Services in partnership with TMHA, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) and other homeless service providers, the program is a countywide effort to house the 50 most vulnerable, chronically homeless people in SLO County. But a program like this takes careful planning and important preparation.

homelessness-oversight-councilNearly 300 surveys were conducted countywide and the most vulnerable clients were identified. A team of volunteers, partner agencies and County staff visited shelters, creek beds, hospital rooms, jail cells and the streets to get the personal information needed to move forward with the program.

TMHA, in partnership with other agencies, will provide the case management of these clients with the goal of housing as many people as possible. Within the first two months, the program achieved 26 percent of its goal by placing 13 people in housing.

To make the housing costs affordable, the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO) pledged 50 of its Housing Choice Vouchers to subsidize the cost of private apartments for those participating in the program.

In addition to the 50Now program, the Department of Social Services is implementing a rapid rehousing program for homeless families who are participating in CalWORKS. The department applied for and received a $1 million grant from the State in a highly competitive grant program that seeks to implement and measure creative solutions to family homelessness. Expected to begin in 2015, the Housing Support Program’s case managers will work with families to help address housing barriers and increase long-term economic security through short-term rental subsidies and family stabilization strategies.

Working Together to Address Homelessness


Rendering of the Homeless Services Center in San Luis Obispo.

Additionally, in July 2014, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $500,000 contribution to the CAPSLO to be used towards the development and construction of a new Homeless Services Center at 40 Prado Road.

The funds will be used entirely for the development and construction of the center, addressing three of the four following central priorities of the County’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness:

1. Facilitating access to affordable housing to put an end to homelessness
2. Coordinating prevention and effective intervention programs that would help stop homelessness before it starts
3. Ending and preventing homelessness through integrated, responsive and supportive services
4. Coordinating a solid administrative and financial structure to support effective plan implementation

CAPSLO leads this effort to develop and ultimately operate a new Homeless Services Center that will provide 100 beds with separate spaces for family, women and men, as well as the capacity to accommodate an additional 75 individuals on an emergency basis. The estimated cost of the project is about $4-4.5 million, and CAPSLO expects the design and fundraising to be completed in June 2015.

Additional Funding for Services to Homeless

Along with the $1.9 million 50Now program, the $1 million Housing Support Program and the $500,000 contribution to the Homeless Services Center, the County provides essential services to the homeless population and financial support to nearly all local homeless service programs.

The County currently spends approximately $2.5 million annually to meet the administrative requirements of Federal grant programs and to provide direct services to homeless individuals. In addition, the County spends more than $121 million annually to fund other health and human services programs that serve low-income and homeless individuals, in order to reduce the incidence of homelessness and encourage self-sufficiency.

County Social Services programs provide everything from temporary cash assistance to nutrition assistance for needy families. County Health Agency programs offer a full range of specialty mental health services, drug and alcohol dependency prevention and treatment, access to health care for those with immediate health care needs who can’t afford to pay for it, and an array of preventative health and direct health services and activities for all residents, but particularly for special populations.

The County also continues to manage nearly $1.5 million in federal grants that it allocates to various homeless services organizations providing shelter, homeless prevention, rapid re-housing, permanent housing, direct services, and rental assistance services to homeless individuals in the county. At the same time, the County allocated $334,500 in discretionary funds toward various homeless programs.

County staff, elected officials and community organizations made great strides in 2014 to address homelessness and will continue to work collaboratively on innovative programs, while also allocating funding with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness in San Luis Obispo County.

As the community moves toward its goal of eliminating homelessness, County staff and elected officials will continue to work with community partners and citizens to make progress on this issue and to help those people who are less fortunate to obtain shelter and sustenance.

For more on how the County contributes to the effort to serve homeless individuals in our community, read pages 6 through 9 of this staff report.