Some Oceano residents express concern about size, location of proposed homeless services center

Center would provide services such as job and housing help, literacy programs, mental health services and hot meals

clambert@thetribunenews.comNovember 2, 2012 

Some Oceano residents are concerned about the size and location of a proposed homeless services center that a local nonprofit organization wants to build near the community’s downtown.

They’re also worried that Oceano doesn’t have enough law enforcement officers or other resources to quickly respond to incidents that could arise at the center.

The Oceano Advisory Council held a meeting this week to give residents a chance to talk about the 5Cities Homeless Coalition’s goal to build a “one-stop” day center.

The South County Community Services Center would provide numerous services including job and housing assistance, literacy programs, mental health services and hot meals.

The council didn’t take a formal vote, but some members said they don’t want to see a day center built just a few blocks from Highway 1, the main thoroughfare through town. The council advises county planners and supervisors on projects and developments in the community.

Residents also presented the council with a petition signed by about 150 people opposing the plan, said Matt Guerrero, a resident and business owner who also sits on the Oceano Community Services District board.

“What we told them is, ‘Look, we have other plans for our community that includes redevelopment, and if you do this you’re threatening the future development of our community,’” he said by phone Wednesday. “It’s not fair to us.”

The 5Cities Homeless Coalition is in a 24-month escrow on an approximately 0.4-acre property at 2096 Nipomo St. It is owned by Rick Searcy, who is running for election to the Oceano services district board, and possibly other family members, according to the county assessor’s website.

The coalition’s plans are still preliminary. While the organization is continuing in the escrow process, members remain open to alternative properties, executive director Janna Nichols said.

Over the past year, coalition members have looked at more than 100 properties in the Five Cities area and made several offers on parcels in Grover Beach and Pismo Beach. Those offers didn’t work out.

“We’re still actively looking,” said Nichols. “We went into escrow on this property because it’s the best one we’ve been able to find.”

She called Tuesday’s meeting “a healthy conversation” that gave coalition members a chance to answer questions and clear up some misunderstandings. For example, she said, the coalition doesn’t plan to duplicate services that already exist in Oceano, such as a community library.

Some wondered why the coalition was focusing on a day center and not an overnight shelter. Nichols said that when the group surveyed the homeless population, the need for a one-stop center rose to the top.

However, Barbara Mann, chair of the Oceano Advisory Council, questioned where some of the center’s clients might go after the facility closed in the evening.

“It doesn’t do any good to do this if you don’t have any place for them to sleep at night,” Mann said.

Jim Taylor, commander of the sheriff’s station in Oceano, also attended Tuesday’s meeting, though he didn’t speak. Later, though, he too expressed concern with the plan.

“We’re not going to be able to provide the level of service that this thing is really going to require,” he said. “No one is arguing the need for this center. The issue is the location and they are putting this thing in an unincorporated area that does not offer and cannot offer a city level of service.”

Nichols said the 5Cities Homeless Coalition will continue outreach efforts and meetings with community groups.

“Our board will have to take a hard look at some questions and concerns raised and figure out what our next steps are,” she said.

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