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County officials should allow homeless to camp in the dunes

Patrick Ford's editorial in New Times on solutions to the county homeless crisis should be read seriously by our county government leaders, legislators, planners ("A home in South County," Sept. 7). There is a lot of government-owned land used by only dead weeds scrub, for even tent camps like common in World War II California, etc. Japanese forced into these camps were treated with better beds, accommodations, and meals than most of SLO County's homeless now! A barrack or tent is better than a creek floor full of mosquitoes, biting spiders, and stagnant stream stench, like our homeless forced from their camps.

In the 1930s was the Great Depression of massive unemployment in San Luis Obispo County, forcing thousands to become homeless before Social Security, Medicaid, Medi-Cal, unemployment insurance, and food stamps existed. Dozens moved into the huge empty Oceano sand dunes to become the famous "Dunites." Instead of being trouble causing, annoying, alcoholic, and drug addict dirty bums begging, they were responsible—daily catching fresh fish for nutrition and sales for funds for supplies.

They grew their own organic food at the little freshwater oasis gullies in the dunes and ate well and sold for profit at farmers' markets. Dunites made their own clothing out of used discarded fabrics, and built their own homes from materials from closed, torn down, dismantled buildings and homes.

In trade for the materials, Dunites helped contractors tear the structures down and remove the lumber, glass, roofing, windows, etc., for Dunite homes. The dunes settlers did not need to ask taxpayers to spend money on building expensive housing for them. Though the shelters had primitive crude architecture and furnishings, they were far more comfortable and healthy than sleeping outside in creek canyons, sidewalks, street benches, and other hideous places in cold and rain.

Over 99 percent of the sand dunes from Grover Beach to Point Sal are uninhabited, the exceptions being the air-polluting, speeding recreational vehicles giving Oceano and Nipomo unhealthy sand-filled air to breathe. There are more than 15 miles of dunes that are up to 2 miles wide in places, and situated where tents and two-person shelters could be erected completely out of view of beach users.

Countless times I surfed Oceano on warm days and saw no other surfers or swimmers or bodyboarders. Sometimes, if the wind was up, maybe a few kiteboarders were out there for a few hours. There was usually nobody on that long, wide beach except the ATV sand-polluters racing around with their noise choking exhaust and bad air. Dunites is a far better option. Let the homeless have camps there, SLO County supervisors. Hire some security guards if you people have any compassion.

That is way cheaper than building expensive shelters and all the permits and red tape delays and time. The dunes would accommodate all of the estimated 258 South County homeless and their pets. Have counselors teach "responsible" living by insisting they catch and sell fish, grow and sell crops, make jewelry, paint art, and play music in town for pay. That is what the no-free-hand-outs Dunites did!

It seems we have lost something great from more than 80 years ago. We need to progress. And what about those old, yet big empty buildings the county and state already own, that could easily fit 260 beds plus emergency beds? It seems too much money for the homeless has been spent on expensive studies for solutions, which never solved the problem.

I would also suggest the just "laws of karma" of all religions. Those who work for their food, shelter, medical, and clothing deserve to get it when forced into unemployment, or by the common California minimum wage jobs that make housing unaffordable. Any person who gets shelter, meals, clothing, and medical without working and paying for it, should work in the shelters to earn it. Jobs include janitorial, meals, repairs, construction, carpentry, caregiver, babysitting, and even simple weed removal. Most homeless can do at least one of these unskilled jobs. Skills can come from training to do the other jobs. All homeless shelters need job training and volunteers as staff.

First in line for shelters and Dunite living should be sober, rehabbed, illegal-drug-free applicants. Those who refuse to change their lifestyles belong either in jail or a mental facility. Why should people work to give freebies to people who intentionally abuse and ruin their lives, without remorse or rehab? Δ

Steve Omar used to edit newspapers in Hawaii. Now he rides his bike to the beach. Send comments through the editor at [email protected] or write a letter for publication and email it to [email protected].

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