Coast Hills

Putting people back in homes

by Joshua D. Scroggin
June 24, 2016

In San Luis Obispo’s south county, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition has found there are more than 1,000 people living on the streets on a given night.

The agency says around 1,000 children in the Lucia Mar Unified School District are also considered homeless by the state, living doubled up or out of cars – couch surfing if not outright squatting in the Oceano Dunes.

Around 150 of those kids are on their own and still attend school. For varying reasons, they’re no longer with parents. Some have turned to sex work to survive.

“As hard as it is to see, they’ve been ingenious in how they’ve taken care of themselves,” said Katie Maloney, the intake and resource coordinator for the coalition. “Some are not always the safest ways, but they’re here.”

There are wildly varying stages of homelessness. Some folks are being priced out of increasing rents, which have ballooned 40 percent in places like Grover Beach in the past two years alone. Others have been rocked by an unforeseen financial crisis, like a cancer diagnosis or job layoff. Many long-term homeless people battle mental illness or addiction.

Whatever the case, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition has been dedicated to helping anyone struggling with housing since being founded in 2009. If you’re homeless, their goal is to help you find a home again.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, the organization funded 132 requests for financial assistance. That tripled what it had done in 2015, which doubled the amount from 2014, Executive Director Janna Nichols said.

The homeless coalition offers a full range of services, but it is also a coalition in the truest sense of the word. One of its primary functions is to serve as a resource referral agency. By communicating and cooperating with all the other agencies dedicated to helping the cause — places like churches, school districts, mental health associations and family resource centers — the coalition is helping organize the effort to make a real difference.

Staff and volunteers are busy planning the fifth annual Empty Bowls Community Luncheon, which is scheduled for Sept. 22 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Arroyo Grande. The fundraiser is chaired by Pismo Beach mayor Shelly Higginbotham.

The event is a huge fundraiser for the organization. Last year, it raised more than $28,000, and event planners are aiming to raise more than $30,000 this year.

Tickets are just $25 apiece and can be purchased online or by calling (805) 574-1638 to avoid the online handling fee. 

Between 600 and 700 people are expected to attend. Attendees will enjoy a lunch of bread, water and soup donated from restaurants throughout the south county. They also get to keep either a hand-crafted ceramic bowl donated by ceramic artists throughout the county or a bisque bowl decorated by children at south county schools.

“It's become a traditional community event where people get together,” Higginbotham said. “Sometimes they don’t see each other until the next year’s luncheon. It’s very joyful, and it just brings together so many people that enjoy helping the homeless.”

One of this year’s sponsors is the CoastHills Community Foundation, the charitable fundraising arm of CoastHills Credit Union. Through its Community Action Sponsorship program, CoastHills was able to provide $500 for the event.

Each month, a special committee made up of volunteers from the credit union staff meet to review requests from community organizations looking for financial help. The committee oversees $25,000 in donations each year, and each organization can receive up to $500 per calendar year.

Do you know of any worthy causes looking for support? Fill out an online donation request today


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