A town like San Luis Obispo seems to have it all: a small-town feel with an influx of tourism, but that’s a different story for those who are homeless.
According to a San Luis Obispo County investigation66% of homeless people say they cannot afford to pay rent.
Among those people is Crystal Davis, who works full time but said it was not enough to afford housing.
“How are we supposed to live in paradise when it’s so hard to get there,” Davis said. “I didn’t want to be broke again like I’m in a car now and tomorrow is payday so I’m living paycheck after paycheck.”
In 2019, San Luis Obispo County had nearly 1,500 homeless people with 79% identifying as unprotected and 26% saying they were living in their vehicle.
“I sleep like maybe four hours, you know, constantly, and then I wake up and there’s either someone siphoning my gas or trying to change my tires or something weird or pissing on my car,” Davis added.
Davis said she had turned her life around from a past of toxic relationships and substance abuse, but she still missed her teenage son.
“He hasn’t spoken to me in three months because I’m homeless, because I have nowhere to go and when I did it was a hotel,” Davis explained.
In the summer of 2021, Davis learned of a federal COVID-19 emergency housing voucher program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Housing Authority of the City of San Luis Obispo (HASLO) secured some of these funds and launched the Welcome Home program.
“We got the award and the program started at the end of July. They said you have to rent, not just deal with the eligibility of clients, but they have to rent apartments, half of them at least in November, and the rest in December, otherwise you risk losing this aid”, recalled Scott Smith, director of HASLO. Director.
A huge help for anyone looking for a place to live off the street.
“[It covered] the part of the rent you can’t afford,” Smith added.
Each candidate had to be referred by a community partner, such as the 5Cities Homeless Coalition, and had to find a landlord willing to rent to them.
“It included incentives for owners, what we call a signing bonus. New landlords who had never worked with us received a one-time $4,000 signing bonus if they entered into a lease with this homeless client,” Smith said.
A great program on paper but difficult to execute when housing is scarce.
“[A] the limited number of vouchers and the high cost of rent make stretching those dollars very difficult,” said Janna Nichols, executive director of the 5Cities Homeless Coalition.
Davis did not hesitate to apply.
“I’ve been denied a voucher six times before and when I was approved my social worker called me and said I had this emergency housing voucher,” she explained. . “I immediately started looking for a place, and it had been nine weeks and 54 places that I had either called, looked at, visited or applied for and I had 28 callbacks and all of them were a no.”
According to HASLO, only 156 tenants received help.
“A lot more people qualified for the voucher than they got to take advantage of it,” Nichols added. ‘Twice the number of people who got the vouchers qualified for them but were unable to find accommodation in time to rent out of the limited number they had.’
Send homeless people like Davis back to square one.
“[I] didn’t know it was a race,” Davis said, adding that she received a letter from HASLO with the following explanation: “You will be placed on the waitlist with the date you received a Well.
“We wanted to have a good number of applicants because we anticipated that maybe only one in three applicants might be successful,” Smith explained. “Even if they qualify, they might not be able to find an apartment and landlord willing to rent to them, so we needed a bigger pool.”
HASLO works to build more affordable housing. A hundred new apartments should be completed in 2022.
“Forty of them are in South County and they will be finished in March,” Smith said. “There are about 60 more that are located in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay that have just started construction.”
According to HASLO, 40 seniors’ apartments at 147 Mary Avenue in Nipomo are nearing completion. Thirty-eight apartments, which include one-, two-, and three-bedroom units at 3065 Lucca Lane in San Luis Obispo, have just begun construction. Finally, construction of 35 apartments at 405 Atascadero Road in Morro Bay is expected to begin this week.
HASLO said there was news of another voucher program possibly opening this summer.
“The challenge is that if we don’t know that more vouchers are coming, it’s really difficult for me to move someone into a place, to provide rental assistance assuming that they could possibly have a voucher for help nurture it,” Nichols mentioned. “If they don’t get that voucher and my help has to end due to time and funding, then where is that family?” We have housed them, but they risk losing their homes again. »
Davis said she lives in an endless cycle.
“I don’t want the county’s hand, I want the county’s help,” Davis added.
5Cities Homeless Coalition is always looking for landlords willing to support housing programs.
“If you’re an owner, this is where we really need your help. We have a rate of about 90%. 100 in terms of keeping people in housing once we help them move into housing. We do a lot in our case management teaching them budgeting,” Nichols explained.
To help people like Davis who yearn for a place they can call home.
“I’ve been a leader all my life. I’ve always been on my own and taken care of things, but I can’t do it myself anymore,” Davis said. “I can’t, and it really sucks that I need help right now because I’m so used to doing it myself.”
HASLO reported that about 90 landlords signed up for this emergency housing voucher program and about 58 of them were new applicants to the program.
For more information on how to support homeownership programs or receive help as a homeless person, those interested can contact the 5Cities Homeless Coalition at (805) 574-1638.