Homeless center project deserves support; neighbors’ concerns deserve consideration

January 7, 2013 

The Prado Day Center is on Prado Road in San Luis Obispo.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

We have all been associated as volunteers or staff with the Community Action Partnership of SLO County (CAPSLO). We know first-hand how CAPSLO assists the homeless population in our community. We’ve also been involved in plans for a new Homeless Services Center next to the county Social Services building on South Higuera Street.

The Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter, our 49-bed facility on Orcutt Road, is dilapidated and must be replaced. Our plans would consolidate a new overnight shelter with the Prado Day Center three miles away. This idea of a “one-stop” services center has been a goal of homeless advocates for many years, and it is a fundamental part of our county’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, adopted in October 2008.

Many alternative sites were evaluated over the past five years, but all were excluded for a variety of reasons. The current sites of the Maxine Lewis shelter and the Prado Day Center are too small for the consolidated center. The proposed 1-acre site on South Higuera Street meets all important criteria: It is close to services, transit and utilities. CAPSLO acquired a long-term lease from the county for $1 per year and hired a local architect, Garcia and Associates, to prepare schematics. The proposed two-story design provides up to 200 beds, a kitchen/dining area, counseling offices, a health clinic, child care and at least 60 parking spaces — 10 more than required by the city’s Zoning Code.

Throughout this process, we’ve requested input from residents and business owners from all over the county. Letters of support have poured in to CAPSLO from throughout the county. The city Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit in June 2010, and no appeal was filed to the City Council.

In 2011, a feasibility study confirmed that there was sufficient community support to raise the funds to build the center. CAPSLO prepared to launch a capital campaign and won a $1 million state grant for the project. In short, the proposed project represents tremendous work by CAPSLO, Friends of Prado Day Center, and city and county officials, working closely with the business community and homeless advocates.

Recently, some complaints have been circulating that express fears that the Homeless Services Center will become “a ‘warehouse’ for ongoing residents forever.” This has not been true for CAPSLO, nor for other homeless shelters that operate with our case-management model. While some residents require a longer stay, the average client at our existing homeless shelter stays only about six to nine months.

Some neighbors feel that CAPSLO has not listened to their objections, in spite of many good-faith efforts to include them in the planning process. They are concerned that plans for the center “lack accountability for how problems affecting neighbors will be dealt with.” Because of these neighborhood concerns, we have delayed the launch of the capital campaign for this long-planned project. In the meantime, CAPSLO has drafted a Good Neighbor Policy to govern operation of the center following extensive input from the city, county, law enforcement, Chamber of Commerce, service providers and neighbors.

Our friends in neighboring businesses have every right to express their concerns. Many of their concerns are legitimate, and they deserve careful consideration. CAPSLO is doing everything possible to mitigate the impacts of the new Homeless Services Center — and in many cases, these conditions are already present in the neighborhood due to the proximity of the Prado Day Center.

Some neighbors of the project are calling for CAPSLO to move the project to another site at Prado Road and Elks Lane, across the street from the Prado Day Center. This site would cost about $2 million to acquire, however. It is larger (about 8-9 acres), but it has many constraints, including flood hazards, overhead power lines and right-of-way dedications required for a future interchange. Thus, it would require significant additional time and expense to obtain a use permit for a homeless services center at this site.

At this point, we need to move forward as a community to develop the Homeless Services Center substantially as proposed. We are open to constructive input as to how best to design and operate the shelter, and we can explore additional options to mitigate its impact. We cannot, however, abandon the vision of literally hundreds of people who have helped us realize the goal of a new Homeless Services Center — including, most importantly, the clients who so desperately need a helping hand to regain their foothold on economic stability.

Together, we have faith that our community will support this project. On Saturday, Jan. 12, the City Council will hold a workshop to discuss homelessness in the city of San Luis Obispo with a focus on solutions.

Also, in a few weeks the city Planning Commission will review the draft Good Neighbor Policy that CAPSLO proposes to govern operations of the new center. These occasions — and others — will provide opportunities to help us plan for the new Homeless Services Center.

Please join us and help frame collaborative solutions that recognize the very real progress we have made, and move us forward on our “Path to a Home” — the title of our 10-year Plan to End Homelessness in SLO County, now more than 4 years old.

The authors are members of CAPSLO advisory committees involved with homeless services.

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