By Mark A. Diaz
Not all government is broken. An excellent example of that is the San Luis Obispo County Veteran Services Department, an office filled with combat veterans that strive to assist those who have served our country. The department’s “can-do-git-er-done” attitude produced a unique solution for veterans and others in need of assistance, a mobile office.
The department, operated by SLO County employees, not federal (a very distinct determination) is designed to assist veterans navigate the labyrinth of demands and requirements in order to receive VA benefits due them. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability or time to make it to the services office. Hence the department created a way for the office to come to them.
“We thought, why not do something innovative, creative and different,” said Christopher Lopez, veterans services officer.
Instead of purchasing an RV or a trailer unit, the team created a compact, mobile office that can be towed behind an electric bike.
“[We’re] trying to be fiscally responsible as well,” said Lopez. “If you wanted to buy an outreach, mobile unit, you’re talking about $100,000 to $150,000. You can spend a lot of money on an RV trying to take services out to the community.”
The team built the unit in their office and in Lopez’s garage for under $10,000. The solar powered unit contains the needed office items and equipment to accomplish a two-fold purpose, to educate and assist.
“We can print, scan, we have a Mi-Fi box, so we have Wi-Fi onboard,” said Lopez, “I put a TV in the side so when we’re doing things like farmers’ market, out of the side of the unit we can play presentations of various benefits,” Lopez said that one of the presentations explains the potential tuition assistance for dependents of veterans.
Lopez plans to do tours with the mobile office around the county and will inform the public where the next location will be via social media. Lopez said that the station’s services are not limited to veterans. The team plans on displaying the unique office at community events, such as farmers’ markets and MASH (Mobile Assistance Services for the Homeless), a service that connects the most vulnerable population of San Luis Obispo County to vital resources.
“I’m going to take it north, take it south and get it out into the communities,” said Lopez, “and take it out to where I think we need it most.”
According to SLOHeathCounts.org, a fact-gathering website run by the San Luis Obispo County Department of Public Health, the amount of veterans is decreasing in San Luis Obispo County from 10.4 percent between the years 2007-2011 to 8.2 percent for 2012 to 2016. 5.9 percent for the state of California’s populace are veterans. However over a quarter (28 percent) of veterans living in the county are over 74-years-old.