Dear Editor,

According to articles in the Los Angeles Times, garbage trucks were the answer to the homeless population in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and Venice Beach.

Same answer but different approaches, the Echo Park approach in March was simply closing down and fencing the area, and arresting any resisters, bringing in garbage trucks to clear the homeless encampments. The current Venice Beach approach is trying to show more humanity by encouraging and assisting the homeless to take advantage of available housing alternatives while creating a more inviting beach experience for businesses, tourists, and local residents…then bringing in the garbage trucks.

My takeaway from this is a mantra used in innovation by the tech community (and other industries): Get an idea, try it, tweak it, iterate…rinse and repeat.


Recently, a few homeless individuals got into a fight at Centennial Plaza, near the pedestrian bridge across from Sunken Gardens, in downtown Atascadero. Or, in the minds of some, a couple of derelict (probably drunk) addicts caused an unsightly disturbance right near our Middle School and City Hall . . . again.

Both versions of this type of event end with “Something has to be done about the homeless situation!” yet we haven’t. Had the fight occurred down by the Salinas River (where some homeless call home), no one may have known about it, except maybe the urgent care or emergency facility that had to treat injuries. Maybe not even them.

Maybe, if there were more newsworthy incidents, we would work harder at trying solutions. I rarely run into anyone who doesn’t have empathy for the situation homeless people find themselves in.

The good part of us continually supports fantastic organizations like El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), whose 50 beds help the homeless who have conquered or don’t have addictions, which is about 20 percent of the estimated 250 homeless persons in Atascadero.

The City of Atascadero has installed cameras and increased police patrols to try and keep a lid on things, but I believe to be successful, we have to solve the problem of no home, at least for the chronic homeless, who are maybe addicts, and/or may have a mental illness.

Depending on the source, this is probably 30 to 40 percent of the homeless population. If we solved the “home” problem for these (roughly) 75 homeless people in Atascadero, we might see a decline in the visual and actual disruption of business, the safety of our parks, and the growth of tourism. That must be worth some thoughtful idea trials and iteration.

Homeless means simply not having a place to put your stuff and to put your head down. Imagine how well your son or daughter would cope with daily living if they had to carry all of their possessions around with them and never know that the place they slept last night will be there tonight? A phrase heard a lot goes something like this “If they just got a job and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, there wouldn’t be any homeless people.”

Fortunately, for some (mostly transitional homeless), ECHO helps them pull up their bootstraps and gets them boots. Frankly, we don’t see them much. Who we see are [the ones] who fight or cause uneasiness, hurt business, and tourism are [the ones] who mostly are the chronic homeless. They are much less in numbers than episodic or transitional homeless, but they tend to be the group that costs the most in terms of health care, policing, and other public services. . .money. So maybe we can help just 75 of our citizens and save money while doing it.

I do think we have tracts of land that could be used by the homeless to at least have a place, if not a home. How much can some porta-potties, water, and trash cost, that could centralize the chronic homeless for services and give them an alternative to the parks and the riverbed? My goal here is simply to open new conversations, or at least keep the topic alive, so we don’t only address homelessness when Atascadero News prints another story about an incident involving the homeless population.

Rich Johnson, Atascadero