Keeping it in Perspective

March 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Lives and Times

March 1, 2011 § 6 Comments

“I’m not homeless. I just have different sleeping alternatives than every one else.”

Doc. Just Doc.

Doc was sitting on a bench on the  outskirts of Mitchell Park, which I’ve actually seen him on a few times previously as I drove by, but never stopped for an interview.

But since today I’m taking a spin on my post Nice to Meet You, and interviewing homeless people again, except this time I’m attempting to impart my newfound “knowledge” from these last few weeks to them, I figured Doc would be the perfect person to interview.

Doc is in his mid-sixities I would guess, with a scraggly beard, an ex-wife, multiple children, -17 dollars in his bank account, a walkman, a sleeping bag strapped to his bike, and a can of Raid to keep the dogs or other homeless people away from him.

Doc is a veteran who served for 9 years and then worked at the nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo, but a divorce left him clinging to the bottle, which eventually led him to a suspended license, and then a DUI while driving with a suspended license. After a year in prison, Doc found himself without a job, without a house, and without a family.

When I asked Doc if he has ever gone to the Prado Day Center or would ever consider going, he said, “That place is for bums. Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not a bum, I’m a hobo. There’s a huge difference. They’re all a bunch of crack heads with no desire to work and will steal anything from each other.”

Doc told me that bums are the one’s that panhandle.

“I held up a sign once. I stood there for 4 hours and got 75 cents. And that’s how I decided I was never doing that again.” –Doc

Doc also said that the only people benefitting from the day center are the people working there, and all they do is favors for the people they like. Doc prefers to just travel and work odd jobs anywhere he can get one. From our interview, I counted 7 different states that Doc has either traveled through, lived in, or stopped in. The list is, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and North Carolina. And those are just the places he mentioned in the few stories he told me.

Throughout the interview, Doc’s favorite phrase seemed to be:

“I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in my years.” –Doc

When I asked Doc if he had ever been down to Sunny Acres, and if he would consider staying there, he told me that Dan de Vaul is a “dingbat, and a dodgy old fart.” He actually couldn’t believe that Sunny Acres was still open, because he knew that the county has been trying to close it down for years.

As Doc and I were talking, another homeless man migrated away from a group in the middle of Mitchell Park and came up to us, and Doc thanked him for the sandwich he had given him the previous day. Doc introduced us, and the man told me his name was Douglas Mattews. Doc then proceeded to explain how I was interviewing him.

Douglas then sat down and we all started talking together. One of my favorite stories that Doc told us was about a time when he was hitchhiking through Arizona and a police officer pulled up behind him and started giving him a rough time.

Doc proceeded to tell us that the police officer actually handcuffed him to a pole that read “No Hitchhiking,” and left him there for about an hour.

When the officer got back he cuffed both of Doc’s hands together and put him in the back of his cruiser. Doc said he started mouthing off to the officer and about 5 minutes into the car ride, the police man dropped Doc off at the front of the police station and told him to tell the front desk that he had the flu and they would give him a voucher for a hotel room for the night.

Doc was astounded, and even more to his surprise, the cop slipped a ten dollar bill into Doc’s coat pocket, and told him to get the receptionist to take his cuffs off for him.

That was just one of the half dozen or so stories that Doc told me of his encounters while traveling, many of which he looked back on almost nostalgically.

Doc and Douglas told me about a song called “Cold Water,” by Tom Waits, which they claimed depicted the life of a homeless person quite well, and was worth a listen.

Since I was already running late for my 5’oclock class after talking with Doc and Douglas for over an hour, I tried to wrap things up, and actually told Doc that he needs to write a book about all the things he’s witnessed and experienced.

Douglas left me with some amazing parting words and told me,

“Stay in school. Get a job. And don’t ever end up like us; homeless.”–Douglas Matthew

Fresh Beginnings & Never Ending Stories

February 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

“We’re trying not to call it a homeless shelter. Because many times when that term is used, it begins to be assumed that all the facility is going to do is provide shelter.”

“We want to make it so much more than that. We’d be providing a series of services, in an attempt to not only aid the homeless but also end homelessness altogether.” –Lilley

Dana Lilley, a planning supervisor within the Housing and Economic Development branch of the county’s Planning and Building department, explained to me precisely what CAPSLO and the county are planning to accomplish through their plans of building San Luis Obispo a new homeless shelter.

The 1-acre plot of land located on S. Higuera is being donated from the county to CAPSLO – which is the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo; and the organization that drafted the proposal for the shelter in the first place.

This proposed structure would have the capacity to hold 200 beds, which far exceeds the Maxine Lewis shelter’s capacity of 50 beds.

As of now, CAPSLO has gotten approved for a use permit but not a building permit because they haven’t begun the actual planning of the structure.

Dana Lilley says their hesitation comes from fears that there isn’t appropriate funding for that type of structure.

The whole process is believed to cost approximately four to eight million dollars to build, and that’s not including the money that is going to be needed to keep the shelter up and running every year. But since the county is heavily involved in the plans for the shelter, they hope to receive federal funds to assist in building the shelter. That also means that CAPSLO must comply with federal demands and policies in return.

When I asked Lilley why he believes that CAPSLO felt the need to build the shelter, he first mentioned how the Maxine Lewis shelter is lacking, but he also said,

“CAPSLO has rather taken to the prestige or gratification that comes when helping the homeless.” –Lilley

CAPSLO plans to use a “design-build” approach, meaning that they’ll find someone who is willing to not only design the architecture for the building, but also use the same company to contract it.

Dana Lilley believes that the new San Luis Obispo facility should continue to move ahead but he wants the county to understand that there aren’t unlimited funds to be devoted to it.

Dana recommended that I speak to Adam Hill who is not only a chairperson on the county’s Board of Supervisors, but also an english teacher currently teaching at Cal Poly. Dana said out of all the supervisors, and actually many people in the county, he is the most dedicated to this project.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get in contact with him for an interview.

So I then called Suzan Ehdaie, another planner in Dana’s same department, whose offices are located in a section of the San Luis Obispo County’s old courthouse, and asked her some follow-up questions about the shelter.

She told me the actual location of the 1-acre plot of land donated by the county, which allowed for me to head over and check the place out myself.

When I got to 3451 S. Higuera, I was quite underwhelmed.

I envisioned 1-acre to be much larger than it proved to be. I was actually concerned that I wasn’t at the right place, so I asked the neighboring Department of Social Services if there were plans to build a shelter in the nearby grassy field.

They confirmed that yes, I was at the right place. Something that I did find interesting about the location of the plot of land was that it was only minutes away from the Prado Day Center, which I thought of as a strategic move on CAPSLOs behalf.  Seeing as they would be overseeing both locations, it could make things simpler.

After wandering the field that should be a shelter in an optimistic average of 2 years, I went over to Trans-King Transmissions, which is on the other side of the lot and asked how they felt about the potential building.

“I doubt there will be any influx or change of customers since the Prado Day Center is just around the corner, but it could definitely affect our property value.” –Trans-King Transmissions

A Dead End at Every Door

February 15, 2011 § 4 Comments

Well if I didn’t know my way around San Luis Obispo before, I without a doubt, do now.

Along with all the driving I did for the interactive map, the location of Prado Day Center proved to be a lot more confusing for me than I expected.

Once my sense of direction kicked in, and I found the day center, I was only met with disappointment. No one working there wanted to be interviewed. The serving of lunch was over, and any remaining stranglers were already walking down the road away from the shelter.

Without hope of homeless people to interview about the day center, I practically begged the workers for an interview. Each one kept pointing me in the direction of someone else to talk to until someone finally said I’d be better off getting in contact with CAPSLO.

CAPSLO, as I came to learn, is the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo. I thanked Beth, my eventual savior, as she gave me the number to the CAPSLO offices.

On my way out of the day center, I spotted an RV parked in the parking lot. I noticed a sign on the window advertising hours, so I went to take a closer look.

The sign read “CHC Mobile Clinic” with hours of operation listed below it. CHC stands for Community Health Centers. I really liked the idea of the mobile clinic and have actually never heard or even thought about the idea of one before.

The one negative thing about the day center, other than not being able to get an interview, was its location. Although there is a bus stop right next to the center, it’s extremely out of the way from regular foot traffic.

Back to my conquest for an interview; I called CAPSLO’s administrative office and told the receptionist about my article and asked who I should talk to. She transferred me to Jenny. I left a message for Jenny and called the administrative office again, asking if there was anyone else in HR that I could talk to. I was then transferred to Tom; this happened two more times until I finally decided to just drive to the office myself.

My dad has told me multiple times that people have a much harder time saying no in person.

I hoped to use this tactic to my advantage. I introduced myself to the receptionist who right away asked,

“Did no one pick up your call?”

She recognized my voice from our already half dozen conversations on the phone. After talking for a while she gave me the number of Dee Torres, who is the Homeless Center Overseer, which means she oversees the operation of both Prado Day Center and Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter.

My call to her was also futile.

The CAPSLO receptionist was easily the most helpful person that I spoke with today. She gave me extension after extension of numerous numbers, until we were eventually successful in a live voice, which was a breath of fresh air after dozens of answering machines.

My success came in the form of Laura from CAPSLO Human Resources.

“I can give you the number of the day center if that’s what the interview is about. We mainly discuss employment. I’m probably not the right person to talk to.” -Laura

I doubt she could hear the disappointment in my voice, because even when I explained to her that the interview was only a couple questions long, just to get a more personable spin on the facts of what the Prado Day Center does to benefit the homeless in SLO, she still adverted me to other numbers who already had my voice on their answering machine.

The worst part was that we were only literally feet away from each other as I sat in the lobby of her office, but she couldn’t be interviewed.

So that my trip wasn’t completely unfruitful, I perused their plethora of pamphlets and actually found a couple of beneficial ones.

As you can assume from my title, these pamphlets were the most information I could get about Prado Day Center. I hate to dedicate a post completely to my failure, but I will redeem it as much as possible by imparting my knowledge through pamphlets with you.

The day center provides:

  • restroom and shower facilities
  • laundry service
  • local phone use
  • mail service
  • a children’s playroom
  • employment listings
  • daily hot lunches

Between the period of January and March 2010, 15,434 meals were served, and 1,820 bus tokens were distributed.

“Coming to Prado Day Center allowed him to wash up, have a good meal, and start searching for jobs again. He has since been able to find occasional construction work in the area and received help applying for Food Stamps.” -A success story in a Prado Day Center pamphlet

A Day in the Life

February 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

This map is to illustrate the hypothetical day of a homeless person. The order of the destinations listed, is the order I would go in if I were to be homeless. The end of the list is designed to be able to loop around to the beginning and start back over.