Plan for homeless services center in Oceano is scrapped

Community leaders and residents worry proposed site near Hwy. 1 would hinder revitalization effort

clambert@thetribunenews.comJune 7, 2013 

A South County nonprofit organization has dropped its plans to build a homeless services center near downtown Oceano, which may relieve some worried residents who thought the proposal didn’t match their efforts to revitalize the area.

The 5Cities Homeless Coalition has had difficulty finding a location to develop a South County Community Services Center, which would provide numerous services including job and housing assistance, literacy programs, mental health services and hot meals.

In the meantime, executive director Janna Nichols said, the group is trying to provide outreach and services to homeless individuals and families in the South County in various ways, even without a physical location.

Last year, some Oceano residents objected after the coalition entered into a 24-month escrow on an approximately 0.4-acre property at 2096 Nipomo St., just a few blocks from Highway 1, the main thoroughfare through town.

The property is owned by Rick Searcy, a former member of the Oceano Community Services District board, and possibly other family members, according to the county assessor’s website.

Community leaders, who are working on plans to revitalize the downtown core, were upset about the proposed location.

“I just don’t think Oceano is the place for it,” said Barbara Mann, who until recently chaired the Oceano Advisory Council.

Nichols said the 5Cities Homeless Coalition board decided at its May 24 board meeting to cancel the contract for several reasons. The deal was contingent upon the coalition being able to acquire other nearby properties for the center, since the group estimates it needs about two acres on which to build a 20,000-square-foot facility.

Another factor had to do with the location itself.

“Certainly we took into account the comments we received from folks in Oceano,” Nichols said. “There were public safety concerns, that this would exacerbate some issues they already have in the community.”

The coalition is continuing its search for a location in the Five Cities area, she said, including vacant parcels, existing buildings and properties that the coalition might be able to lease instead of purchase. The group has looked at more than 100 properties in the Five Cities area and made several offers on parcels in Grover Beach and Pismo Beach, which didn’t work out.

“We’re also assessing whether we need to modify the center to downsize it,” she said.

Meanwhile, the coalition has brought together about 40 agencies, including churches, which provide services to homeless people in the South County to collaborate and share resources.

Through their efforts, the homeless coalition has been able to provide rental deposit assistance to three homeless women with children and two male veterans. The organization also hopes to start offering mobile dental services for homeless adults in partnership with Community Health Centers of the Central Coast.

“Our goal of being the thread to connect community need with community service I think is working very well,” Nichols said.

People’s Kitchen

The coalition also hopes to provide a permanent location at the homeless services center to South County People’s Kitchen. That nonprofit organization has moved a half-dozen times since volunteers started serving meals out of the back of a truck near the railroad tracks in Grover Beach in 1992.

It currently serves meals at Shouts of Grace Church at 675 W. Grand Ave. in Grover Beach. The church is moving its Sunday services and won’t be able to accommodate People’s Kitchen, which needs to find a new space in July.

“We’re still looking for a location to relocate to,” People’s Kitchen president Betsy Ehrler said. “Everything’s up in the air, unfortunately.”

Anyone interested in talking to Ehrler about a new location for People’s Kitchen can reach her at 489-9046. For more information about the 5Cities Homeless Coalition, go to http://5chc.org.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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