In the past few months, Betsy Ehrler has seen an uptick in the number of lunchtime patrons of the South County People’s Kitchen in Grover Beach.
Ehrler, who has headed up the volunteer-run organization for about 10 years, normally counts an average of 50 to 60 people at the beginning of the month, with the numbers increasing as the month wears on.
Lately, by mid-month, she’s counted more than 100 people. And according to the most recent survey the volunteers have done to coincide with this year’s Homeless Enumeration Project, about 75 percent of their clientele is homeless.
Ehrler isn’t sure why the numbers have increased. But she is well aware that there are plenty of services they could use in addition to a hot meal: help finding housing and a job, a place to shower and do laundry.
Members of a nonprofit organization, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition, are working as quickly as they can to provide those and other services through a day center that would offer mental health counseling, drug and alcohol services, a veteran’s affairs office and a permanent home for People’s Kitchen.
The group’s effort was jump-started about a year and a half ago after an Oceano couple bequeathed $1.5 million to the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation. Erna and Hugo Klaproad stipulated that the money be used to provide shelter and services to the homeless in the Five Cities area, with an emphasis on their immediate needs.
Since then, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition has held meetings with various groups that provide services in South County, formed committees and hired consultants to help.
“This is a tremendous undertaking, and we’re a relatively new organization,” coalition president Patti Diefenderfer said. “Most everyone realizes this is a process and not going to be accomplished in three to four months.”
The first goal — and a difficult one — is to get a location for the day center. Diefenderfer is hopeful the group will find and purchase a 2- to 3-acre property to first serve as a day center and later an overnight shelter.
She declined to reveal the potential locations a committee has identified, only saying that it will be located in the Five Cities area — somewhere in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Oceano or Pismo Beach. The organization also needs to raise enough money to sustain the center.
The group is looking for potential board members or those interested in serving on a committee to raise money to sustain the center. For more information, call Diefenderfer at 478-5855 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The group’s website is http://5chc.org.
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.