On April 19, at the Cuesta College Performing Arts Center, six candidates for the Board of Supervisors discussed various subjects surrounding homelessness, from safety programs to tiny homes.
Here’s where each candidate stood on the issues:
Bruce Jones, District 2
Challenging incumbent Bruce Gibson for the District 2 Supervisor position, Bruce Jones is running with priorities of public safety and homelessness. Jones explains that his priorities are ranked based on community feedback and interaction.
When considering other solutions to homelessness, Jones pointed to the Home Key Project, which he finds “the most attractive.”
“I look at how well that worked with [the] Paso Robles project from 2019, jointly done with Echo,” Jones said. “There’s money available for them right now and announced last week there are over $70 million to fund these types of projects.”
As a Detroit native, Jones said San Luis Obispo’s sunny weather is a contributor to the homelessness crisis.
“So it is true that disproportionately we are going to have more folks that we take care of, but the morally right thing to do here is to take care of them,” Jones said. “And in other stances, we maybe take care of a few more people than a place like Detroit or Flint might have to take care of.”
In addition to considering the Home Key Project, Jones discussed improving upon current programs and systems in place.
“One thing we did not discuss that I think is important is the county-wide homeless information system management system,” Jones said. “Beefing this program up allows us to seek funding more efficiently from county state and private sources. I think that necessary to support all the programs that we want to pursue.”
Colonel John Whitworth, District 2
Colonel John Whitworth, similar to Jones, will be challenging for the District 2 supervisor.
Whitworth addressed the varying levels of difficulty –– issues such as addiction or mental health –– that the homeless community may have to face.
“If you call social services, they have some very fine folks that will help homeless folks,” Whitworth said. “But they have to be held accountable. They have to want to get help and that’s when you look at homelessness in varying degrees.”
Additionally, with the different situations that the homeless community may encounter, the recent inflation and job security in the area were a topic of discussion.
“What I’m concerned about and I think what we all should be concerned about is, with inflation and all the issues and the costs of living, a lot of people are sitting on the edge right now,” Whitworth said. “So, what we think of homelessness is going to have a new definition. We need to be ready to deal with that.”
Despite running against Jones, Whitworth said he had “become good friends” with Jones and fully supports any potential outcome.
“I have the highest amount of respect for him and he’s a wonderful man,” Whitworth said. “I will say that if he does win this, I will be supporting him 100%.”
Dawn Ortiz-Legg, District 3
As the current District 3 supervisor, appointed back in November 2020 by Gavin Newsom, Dawn Ortiz-Legg’s experience in the energy sector will contribute to how she tackles homelessness.
“I think that building some of the world’s largest solar farms is part of that,” Ortiz-Legg said. “I always say that it helped me become a better supervisor because I learned so many aspects of moving the needle within government.”
The District 3 supervisor commented that, by interacting with the public, she’s noticed that reclaiming the public spaces will be important to the community members.
“The public wants their public spaces back,” Ortiz-Legg said. “They want their parks, they want to be around town and all of that.”
To go forward, Ortiz-Legg suggested looking at San Luis Obispo’s past — potentially bringing back bathhouses, training and day centers.
“There’s a lot of folks out there that really haven’t had a chance in life, nobody cared for them,” Ortiz-Legg said. “Nobody told them how to do the simple things we take for granted every day. We could do a lot of different things to take them off the street and put them into places.”
Stacy Korsgaden, District 3
Stacy Korsgaden will be challenging Ortiz-Legg for the District 3 supervisor position. For Korsgaden, homelessness has been a strong priority for her campaign.
“The community I deal with, the local citizens, are coming in saying they are so concerned with homelessness and crime and other important issues that they are choosing to leave the state,” Korsgaden said.
Korsgaden credits strong leadership as part of the solution to the homelessness crisis.
“I think what we’re looking at is that we oftentimes do not know what to do,” Korsgaden said. “That’s where the leadership comes in. I explained my idea where we have to take control of the population that right now is about 1,500 to 2,000 before we put a zero behind that.”
This idea involves implementing an emergency plan — this means calling the homelessness issue an “emergency” and focusing on getting people off the streets.
“The end in mind is we want a place where people want to sleep and right now we don’t have those available,” Korsgaden said. “Let’s get people off the streets and then triage them to our wonderful non-profits and our local services.”
Arnold Ruiz, District 3
Candidate Arnold Ruiz discussed the use of the commercial properties as space to provide shelter to the homeless.
“We shouldn’t be putting people in homes,” Ruiz said. “We should give them shelter, and food, anything that they need. Jobs are the real reason that we’re having problems here.”
In addition, Ruiz emphasized the need for job security.
“Providing homes is not the practical thing to do, unless people have jobs lined up,” Ruiz said. “We are so far out from being able to work and hold a steady job.”
Ruiz also brought a rabbit to promote the San Luis Obispo sidewalk zoo and the sense of community he’s campaigning for when it comes to the homelessness issue.
“We should be the motivating power to the whole world to take charge of first yourself, then your community,” Ruiz said. “In every neighborhood, there needs to be somebody to stand up and say ‘I love you.’ It’s not an option. You love everybody.”
Jimmy Pauling, District 4
Jimmy Pauling discussed his experience with a past project he worked on in Arroyo Grande involving uniting local churches to provide their parking spots as shelter for the homeless community.
“The best way to work towards the goal is to do a lot of outreach upfront,” Pauling said. “We should make sure the community is engaged in the process. They have been invited in the process. If you don’t have that, you will not have a successful project.”
When asked about if he would personally mind living next to a homeless facility, Pauling discussed the importance of the quality of the program running it.
“This is exactly who is going to be here, here are the rules that we’re going to adhere to, the processes we’re going to follow and this is how you can be engaged in the process early on,” Pauling said.
Pauling also talked about why homelessness as a whole is an important issue that the community should address and be involved with.
“It’s an issue that affects all of us,” Pauling said. “Whether it’s a business community or a family that are wanting enjoy outdoor spaces –– parks, beaches, streets sidewalks. We need to approach the issue with compassion and order: how we reclaim public spaces and get people past housing, get them jobs, a better life.”