By April Charlton/Senior Staff/Times Press Recorder
a division of Lee Central Coast Newspapers
When 36-year-old William Diaz was homeless, he didn’t ponder his future. Instead, his days were consumed with finding a place to sleep, warmth and his next meal. “The whole time I kept thinking that I didn’t have a chance,” said Diaz, who now lives in an apartment in San Luis Obispo. “I wasn’t thinking about a future.”
At the same time, Diaz, who grew up in Nipomo (see related story) was struggling with homelessness in the South County, a group of individuals was creating the 5Cities Homeless Coalition to help people like him.
“We knew there was a need for services for the homeless in the Five Cities area,” said Patricia Diefenderfer, president of the newly formed coalition that consists of different agencies and community organizations.
On any given day, there are at least 536 people without a permanent place to call home in the South County, according to statistics on the local homeless population recently released by the county.
"Other than the People’s Kitchen, a few churches and case management, there’s really nothing for (the homeless) population in the South County,” Diefenderfer said, explaining the reason behind the coalition’s formation in 2007.
The closest day-use shelter for the homeless is in San Luis Obispo, and the county’s only overnight shelter, which has a limited number of beds, and is usually at capacity, also is in San Luis Obispo. Other much-needed services — mental health, medical and housing — for homeless individuals in the South County also are mostly offered in locations outside of the area, making it almost impossible for the homeless to get the help they need. Many homeless people collect cans and bottles for money, but Diaz said it’s a very grimy job that doesn’t pay well and leaves the individual collecting the cans a mess.
“It’s barely just enough money to survive on,” Diaz said. “And you’re so dirty after. Try to get a job (looking) like that.”
Because of the lack of services for the homeless in the South County, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition plans to bring a plethora of both to the area, said Diefenderfer. “We want to bring all the players that provide or could provide services to (the homeless) under one roof,” Diefenderfer explained. “The bottom line is that we envision a one-stop shop for the homeless. A facility that when you walk through that front door, you are assessed to get you from Point A to Point B.”
The facility visualized by the 5Cities Homeless Coalition also would be a day-use center where homeless persons could wash their clothes, take showers, eat lunch, make a phone call and integrate back into society, Diefenderfer said. “We want to be able to provide the daily basics that help them survive,” said Diefenderfer, who was homeless for five years.
The coalition also would like to see an overnight shelter established in the Five Cities, but for now the group is focusing its efforts on raising funds to open a facility.
The group also is in the process of forming an advisory committee. “(Funding) is what it will take to make this a reality,” said Diefenderfer.