‘It’s not a homeless center’ — South County deal would be new way to fight homelessness

5 Cities Homeless Coalition is in escrow to purchase a Grover Beach church property, with hopes to transform it into a homeless services hub with potential transitional and affordable housing in the future.
5 Cities Homeless Coalition is in escrow to purchase a Grover Beach church property, with hopes to transform it into a homeless services hub with potential transitional and affordable housing in the future.

If all goes as planned, Grover Beach could have a new central location for homeless services — complete with transitional housing for homeless youths and eventually affordable housing for lower-income residents.

For years, officials have bemoaned the lack of a physical space for homeless services in southern San Luis Obispo County — an area with a highly visible homeless population.

Now the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, in a partnership with Peoples’ Self-Help Housing and the cities of Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach, is in escrow for the Hillside Church property in Grover Beach to provide just that.

Though the plans are still “very preliminary” at the moment, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing CEO John Fowler said his organization was excited to be a part of it.

“The need is everywhere for affordable housing,” Fowler said. “We have homeless everywhere that are needing to be addressed, particularly in the Grover Beach area. And they’ve been trying to address this for years. ... That this church site could come up and be available is awesome and very unique.”

Requests for comment from Five Cities Homeless Coalition on the plans were directed to Peoples’ Self-Help.

The proposal is currently just in the developmental concept phase, Fowler added — noting that the entire deal is likely years away from being fully realized.

Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson called the concept a “unique opportunity for the South County.”

“It’s a unique opportunity to address homelessness and housing in one concept in a regional and collaborative way,” he told The Tribune in a phone interview Thursday.

“There is nothing like this project in the South County,” he added.

Homeless services and transitional housing

Bronson was hesitant to describe the project — again stressing that it is in its very earliest phases of development — as a homeless center.

Instead, he called it “a place for homelessness and housing management.”

“It’s a multi-pronged concept to address housing,” Bronson said. “When I think of a day-use center, I think where they can come to drop in during the day and maybe spend the day there, get some services.

“This is about housing first, and then providing services for the housing. This is about putting rooftops over people’s heads who don’t have it right now.”

The first phase of the project would renovate the existing church properties — about 17,000 square feet at 1935 Newport Ave. — into an administrative office for the homeless coalition, a case management service center, winter warming shelter, an on-site live-in manager and other services, according to a Grover Beach city staff report.

The church property has been used as a temporary warming center for the past two years.

A second phase would build approximately 20 permanent supportive housing units, on an undeveloped portion of the property, to be owned and managed by Peoples’ Self-Help Housing.

That housing would be aimed at people earning 30 percent or less of the median income.

One of the major facets of the project would be its transitional housing for youths.

Five Cities Homeless Coalition has proposed adding 11 youth dormitory rooms during the first phase of the project, with up to 44 beds.

Those would be available to youths between the ages of 18 and 24, Bronson said.

The homeless coalition wants to offer resources specific to that group, including outreach and engagement services, education and employment, “with the ultimate goal of helping young people develop the knowledge and skills needed for independent adulthood.”

The project would potentially be funded through grants from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP), which set aside $500 million to help California cities and counties address the state’s homelessness crisis.

San Luis Obispo County is expected to be eligible for about $4.8 million, according to the Grover Beach staff report; it is currently accepting requests for proposal for local HEAP applications through March 15.

Bronson said without that funding, the concept will not be able to happen.

“It is dependent upon HEAP funds,” he said. “If those don’t come forward, this likely doesn’t advance”

Neighborhood concerns

The proposal isn’t without its detractors. At the Grover Beach City Council meeting on Feb. 19, one neighbor spoke out against the possible project, saying she wouldn’t have bought a home in the area last year if she knew this was in the works.

“I can’t imagine this being a good idea, what with the school right there,” she said, noting that Ocean View Elementary School is a few blocks away from the property.

Fowler said he hopes that Peoples’ Self-Help and its partner agencies will be able to ease some neighbors concerns over the potential project with public outreach.

An outreach meeting on the proposal is planned for March 6 at the organization’s Courtland Street Apartments, which opened in 2014.

“We’re hoping to share with the community there in Grover Beach — what does affordable housing look like?” Fowler said. “Because there are some old concepts about, ‘Oh my gosh, there are these old, derelict buildings with people who are unsavory maybe hanging around them, and they’re not really well managed and they look terrible in the neighborhood.’ ... That’s completely false and such an old paradigm.”

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Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.