Support grows for new San Luis Obispo homeless center

acornejo@thetribunenews.comFebruary 24, 2014 

The plan to build a homeless services center on Prado Road in San Luis Obispo is gaining new support — including a $250,000 commitment by the San Luis Obispo City Council to purchase the needed land.

A foundation made up of community members and local business leaders has been formed to help raise the money needed to build the long-sought center.

The Homeless Foundation for San Luis Obispo County is expected to play a vital role in avoiding the pitfalls that derailed past plans to build the center at a site on South Higuera Street.

The foundation, headed by local attorney John Spatafore, will work as the collaborator between key partners and the community to raise the money needed to build the center and to provide ongoing financial support for homeless issues in the community.

The hope is that the $250,000 earmarked to help purchase the nine-acre site at 40 Prado Road will be matched by the county and by the foundation.

A collaboration between Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, which would operate the homeless services center, and the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority, has made the new site a viable option.

In the past, the site was not considered because of its $2 million price tag.

The county had previously given the South Higuera site to CAPSLO for the project, but opposition from nearby business leaders prevented it from moving forward.

The county Board of Supervisors has not yet been asked to commit money toward the purchase of the Prado Road site.

“The reality is that the county is committed to helping address homelessness to the extent that we can,” county administrator Dan Buckshi said.

If the project appears viable, once all the details of it are vetted, Buckshi said he would likely bring the request for funding before the board.

Businessman Bill Thoma led the effort against the Higuera Street location, instead advocating for the Prado Road site.

“I am seeing a renewed excitement about it now,” Thoma said. “We’ve shown that where there is a will, there is a way, and I am willing to put money where my mouth is and try to support the center in that location.”

However, the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding late last year to study the feasibility of purchasing a nine-acre property on 40 Prado Road to fulfill the needs of both agencies.

The Regional Transit Authority is searching for about five acres on which to build a maintenance and operations facility. CAPSLO is looking for up to three acres on which to build the homeless services center.

Jim Famalette, chief operating officer of CAPSLO, said he is optimistic that the plan will work. “The foundation is seemingly a very positive step in the right direction,” Famalette said.

A non-binding letter of intent with the owner of the Prado Road site has been signed, and the due diligence needed to move into escrow is underway.

Spatafore said he expected escrow to begin as soon as mid-March, but Famalette said it will more likely be sometime this summer.

“There is still a lot of due diligence work to do,” Famalette said. “It is not impossible, but I can’t honestly say it would be probable.”

Spatafore has worked tirelessly for months to form the foundation, which he plans to make nonprofit.

“This process will be driven by a community-based respect for the need of a homeless services center,” Spatafore said. “The foundation is intended to raise funds for building it and for future needs. The community will be a large part of whatever happens here.”

The original plans for the homeless center, which would have cost up to $8 million to build, called for 200 beds, a commercial kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, lockers and storage, as well as offices for caseworkers, a classroom for children, and community and multipurpose rooms.

Spatafore said those plans will be re-evaluated and the cost of the center may decline.

“We are now looking at more land, which gives us more options,” Spatafore said. “We are not starting over, but we have learned a lot from that first effort and we have come back a lot stronger and organized.”

Meet the board

The board of the Homeless Foundation for San Luis Obispo County is Dave Cox, Dee Lacey, Roy Rawlings, Ermina Karim, Jim Famalette, Ed Valentine, Jim Grant, Jay Beck, Elise Patrick, John Spatafore, Dominic Tartaglia and Stacey White.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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