Here’s how SLO County counts its homeless population
A debate over how to allocate resources for San Luis Obispo County homeless services avoided devolving into a battle between North and South when projects from both regions came out winners.
The Homeless Services Oversight Council was tasked with deciding this week which projects should get a cumulative $4.8 million in grant funding from the state.
Top of its list? A unique homeless services facility in Grover Beach that has neighbors furious and a new 36-bed warming shelter in Paso Robles.
The council’s recommendation will now go to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on April 23, and it will have the ultimate power to decide which projects get funded.
The decision has far-reaching impacts for how homelessness is addressed across San Luis Obispo County.
Because of the limited funding, not all who applied for the money were successful. According to SLO County Homeless Services Coordinator Laurel Weir, all of the requests totaled more than $15 million.
The council was expected to consider three funding alternatives on Wednesday, in which two prioritized less-expensive North County projects that included the Paso Robles warming center and an expansion of Atascadero’s ECHO shelter, while only one prioritized the markedly more expensive South County project that would create a new space for homeless services in the Five Cities area.
The council nixed that idea however, in favor of a mix-and-match approach that allocated:
- $2.6 million to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition for the Grover Beach facility, plus $300,000 for a transitional aged youth program.
- $1.5 million to the Paso Robles and Atascadero shelters.
- $400,000 to CAPSLO for a withdrawal management unit that would provide detox services and a facility to homeless individuals.
New approach to homelessness
By far the most contentious aspect of Wednesday’s meeting was the inclusion of a proposal from the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition for what the organization calls a “housing navigation center.”
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.
The 5 Cities Homeless Coalition has tried numerous times over the past decade to find a location for a shelter or homeless services hub, to no avail.
With the possibility of the Homeless Emergency Aid Program funding from the state this year, 5 Cities Homeless Coalition (5-CHC), Peoples’ Self-Help Housing and the cities of Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach partnered to propose a new type of project aimed at addressing homelessness in the region.
The project, located at the Hillside Church property in Grover Beach, would include two phases: The first phase would renovate about 17,000 square feet at 1935 Newport Ave. into an administrative office for the homeless coalition, a case management service center, space for an on-site live-in manager and 11 youth dormitory rooms for homeless teens and young adults. 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.
In February, Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson called it 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 on Feb. 28.
In its application, the partners requested $3.4 million in HEAP funding — just under three-quarters of the county’s entire $4.8 million allocation. They didn’t get that, though.
The project attracted both supporters — waving signs with smiley faces and “Support 5-CHC!” — and opponents — clad in red, largely unsmiling — to the at-times heated HSOC meeting on Wednesday.
Since it was announced in February, the concept plan for the project has drawn the ire of neighbors who, beleaguered by two years living next to a warming center, say it will just compound problems with homeless individuals in the area.
Many pointed that the site’s proximity to Ocean View Elementary School makes it a less-than-ideal location for a homeless services hub.
“It’s all about location, location, location,” neighbor Paul Reinhardt said during public comment on Wednesday. “This is the wrong location, wrong location, wrong location.”
One man speaking during the meeting said if the project were to be passed, he would oppose it every step of the way with litigation.
Supporters by-and-large said the project was necessary to actually help eradicate homelessness in the South County and noted that good locations for these sorts of projects are few and far between.
“It seems to me that when it comes to housing for the homeless or people at risk of homelessness, it’s always the wrong location,” local Realtor Nancy Allison said during discussion. “Sometimes I think we have to weigh what’s best for 5 Cities overall, versus what’s best for a neighborhood. Sometimes misinformation can spread, and fear can grow.”
‘No perfect site’
At Wednesday’s meeting, project coordinators said they would be willing to break off some parts of the project to decrease costs and appease community members, namely taking away a proposed winter warming shelter at the site.
In the end, the 5 Cities project was largely supported by the HSOC members, with Third District Supervisor Adam Hill moving to allocate $2.9 million of the grant funding for the South County plans, with the caveat that they try to mitigate neighborhood concerns.
“There’s no perfect site,” Hill said, noting that he understood the concerns. “If we don’t do this now, I don’t think we’ll ever have anything we can work with in South County.”
“If we do nothing to address homelessness now, it will not get better,” he added. “It will certainly get worse.”
Following the decision, opponents to the project said they felt they had not been heard.
“I feel that they made up their mind before they had the hearing today,” neighbor Becky Mosgofian told The Tribune after the meeting. “I’m really disappointed by the lack of protection for the kids. ... I’m in tears, because I feel like they just sidestepped that and tried to say we don’t care about the homeless when all we’re saying is they should be in the proper place where they can be served and our kids can be safe.”
North County needs
The North County — especially Paso Robles — has long lacked adequate low-barrier homeless services. But now that a funding path seems clear in light of the HSOC decision on Wednesday, the region can move forward to expand its services.
Atascadero is home to the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), which serves nightly meals and provides showers to anyone who needs them.
However, many of the organization’s beds are reserved for those transitioning out of homelessness — leaving few options for those seeking emergency shelter.
Paso Cares, a nonprofit that serves Paso Robles’ homeless population, has been serving nightly meals in a city-owned parking lot near Riverside Avenue and 24th Street for about four years.
The organization also coordinates warming shelters during the winter and provides laundry service, but has lacked a building out of which to operate — the city doesn’t currently have any kind of permanent homeless shelter.
This situation pushed homeless advocates and city leaders in Paso Robles and Atascadero to jointly apply for about $1.8 million in HEAP funding, which would go toward building a 36-bed warming shelter and help ECHO expand its services.
The 5,000-square-foot warming shelter would be located in Paso Robles on city-owned land near the Wastewater Treatment Plant, just northeast of downtown.
It would provide a low-barrier shelter for those in need to spend the night during the winter, and it would also give Paso Cares a place to serve dinner and offer laundry and shower services.
ECHO’s portion of the funds would be used to rehab the nonprofit’s building, increase the shelter’s hours of operation and add additional counseling services in Atascadero and Paso Robles.
Unlike the South County plans, Paso Robles and ECHO’s proposal was met with no opposition Wednesday.
The partnership’s application requested $1.79 million for the projects, but the HSOC chose to trim that slightly to $1.5 million.
“I think it’s absolutely crucial to have homeless services up in North County,” said Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson, San Luis Obispo City Council’s representative on the board. “A lot of folks are having to come down to San Luis Obispo and South County because North County is super cold in the winter.”
Correction: The headline of this article has been updated to clarify that the funding is still pending a final decision by the Board of Supervisors.