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Unhappy SLO 

SLO County residents need to take off their blinders and see this place for what it is

I recently saw that San Luis Obispo has been ranked as one of the happiest places to live in the U.S. Somehow, I think whoever came up with this designation for SLO had blinders on. Or maybe they're just selective about who they ask about quality of life here.

My wife and I have lived in SLO County for more than 40 years. We raised our children here. I'm not so ignorant as to think change isn't going to occur. Change can be good; complacency is not. I think at one point in past years SLO might have qualified for being a happy place. We are also watching as quality of life here deteriorates.

Don't get me wrong, SLO has plenty of things to be proud of. The climate is great. There are plenty of outdoor activities to meet almost anyone's desires. There are numerous venues for live music and the performing arts. World-class wineries abound. There are great opportunities for higher education (if you can afford it). Scenic Big Sur is just up the road.

One of my daughters has already left the area due to high housing costs and poor employment opportunities. My other daughter and her family are looking to move for the same reasons. It's a common occurrence among my friends and my children's friends to leave the area due to housing and wage issues. They didn't want to move; our "friendly" county just hasn't ended up being so friendly for the next generation. My grandkids can't enjoy what my children were able to enjoy. Retirement for me may well require a move to someplace more affordable.

Recently, my daughter took her children, 7 and 5 years old and 9 months old, into SLO for lunch. She bought sandwiches and drinks from a deli and went to Meadow Park to have a picnic and let the kids play. They never got as far as unwrapping their lunch. There were between 20 and 30 of what appeared to be homeless men, no women, in various states of inebriation. There were also people showing obvious signs of mental illness. They were walking around shouting at nobody in particular. There was no evidence of any organized free lunch program happening, which would cause this number of people in one place. Meadow Park just seems to have become a homeless hangout, not a place for kids to play. They packed it back in the car and thought they'd go have lunch by the creek downtown. Bad choice. It was worse than the park and the levels of inebriation were obvious. There were men passed out on many of the benches.

I'm not bashing homeless people. Saying San Luis Obispo is a happy place might fall on deaf ears if you happen to be homeless. I suppose SLO is happier than Skid Row in LA or the Tenderloin in SF. My problem is with the hypocrisy of San Luis Obispo being labeled one of the "Happiest Places" in our country, opposed to the socio-economic conditions which bring about the problems of low wages combined with a high cost of living here in SLO. Homeless is just a symptom of a much bigger problem. It's also one of the more visible problems. Aggressive panhandling has become commonplace downtown.

I don't have the solutions. I probably don't even have a grasp on the magnitude of the problem. Prisons and jails are overcrowded, and non-violent offenders are often released early. Veterans aren't receiving the help and care they need. Drug addiction is rampant with no good solution in sight, and there are not enough resources to deal with it. Untreated mental illness is a huge problem.

There are things we can all do that don't cost much. We can all be kinder to each other, donate to our local nonprofits, which serve the local homeless population. Volunteer. Do something. Do anything. Or keep your blinders on and do nothing, hoping things will change by themselves.

But please take off the blinders and quit claiming what a happy place this is. Δ

Kirk Waddell says, "Sign me: Not so happy in SLO anymore." Send comments through the editor at [email protected] or write a letter to the editor for publication and send it to [email protected].

Readers Poll

How do you feel about the availability of mental health services in SLO County? 

  • There is not enough access, and there needs to be more.
  • There is access but only for those with a lot of money.
  • Most people should be able to afford it if they knew how to find it.
  • People need to learn to get over their issues themselves.

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