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Homeless oversight council seeks shelter crisis declarations 

With nearly three-fourths of the county’s roughly 1,500 homeless spending their nights unsheltered and in increasingly harsh winter conditions, the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Feb. 2 to declare a shelter crisis, an action that allows the county to open public buildings as emergency warming centers with immunity from ordinary negligence and a temporary waiver of some housing habitability requirements.

The board voted to make $10,000 available to shelter organizations and directed county staff to collaborate with shelter organizations to try to boost existing capacity and increase the number of homeless people who use them. 

The declaration sets a proactive tone for what’s hoped to be a coordinated effort between the county, municipalities, and homeless services organizations to better tackle the SLO County homelessness issue.

The Homelessness Services Oversight Council, an advisory board to the supervisors, voted on Jan. 20 to bring the issue to the supervisors and all of the county’s cities, asking that each city declare a shelter crisis to expand the available shelter locations for homeless people.

According to a housing inventory count in January 2015, 166 emergency shelter beds were available at local shelters in the county, with an additional 196 people sheltered in motels. During the winter, five warming centers are open in Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles, and SLO city with a combined capacity of 132 beds, but those centers are only conditionally open, can be understaffed, and often run into difficulty getting to full capacity, according to SLO County Homeless Services Coordinator Laurel Weir’s report to the supervisors on Feb. 2.

On the evening of Feb. 2, the Paso Robles City Council discussed declaring a shelter crisis in the city but did not do so, instead instructing city staff to meet with local shelter organizations, such as Paso Cares and Echo, to determine the scope of the homeless situation in Paso Robles, and bring the council options for action.

“I propose we direct staff to find out, where do we have overlaps? Where do we have gaps? Where do we have a role to play in solving this problem?” Paso Robles Mayor Steven Martin said. “And bring us the options and talk about it.”

The issue will be back on the council’s agenda on Feb. 16.

“Whatever we do, I want to make clear to everyone that homelessness is not a winter issue, it’s a year-round issue,” Councilmember Steve Gregory said. “We need to address it.”

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