There is a common misconception that being homeless is a preventable existence—that those who live on the street recklessly wasted and squandered their belongings and valuables. This may be true for some, but not every homeless person is a dirty bum with a desperate cardboard sign asking for help. Yes, some are withering to nothingness and mugging strangers, but others are transitioning and regrouping. Some even may be living in a homeless state by choice instead of circumstance. Surprisingly, there can be advantages to homelessness.
Yet San Luis Obispo recognizes homelessness as a problem through rising statistics reports and increasing volunteer counts at shelters. Last year’s Homeless Enumeration Report tallied an estimated 3,830 people in SLO as homeless, a 1,420 person increase from 2005. The city with the most homeless in San Luis Obispo County is San Luis Obispo, followed by Paso Robles and Grover Beach respectively. This covers most of the five “w’s,” but no study or statistical analysis can answer why—why are the homeless increasingly drawn to San Luis Obispo?
Maybe it’s the nice weather. Maybe it’s the available resources and shelters for the homeless. Or maybe it’s the freedom getting to their heads; not alcohol or mental disease, but satisfaction with their lifestyles.
San Luis Obispo residents are notorious for living healthy and actively, heavy on outdoor recreation. So what distinguishes a homeless person from this content population?
The homeless generally live outdoors, with the scattered exceptions of those spending nights at shelters and those sleeping in their cars.. They—more than anyone on the Central Coast—have experienced the moderate weather and keenly note the seasonal changes in the environment. So by default most of their activities, like those of SLO residents, are outdoors.
San Luis Obispo inhabitants have an average yearly income of $45,550, according to the City-Data.com website; the Homeless Enumeration Report says that the homeless have a two-day workweek average for the 18 percent that are employed. Longer weekends mean less money earned for the homeless, but indicate more free time and recreation. Perhaps it is the ability to spend more time leisurely that is so appealing to the homeless, considering the free outdoor activities and events common in SLO and available to the entire community, including the homeless.
Maybe the growing numbers indicate an increase in friendly relations and support among the homeless, meaning the more homeless that there are in San Luis Obispo, the larger the minority group grows and interacts together.
Whatever the reason, the appeals of San Luis Obispo to a working member of society seem to translate to the homeless: the weather and environment are attractive for outdoor activities, work-related stress is sparse after attending free events and shows, and the population is growing and doubling in friendships.