The Five Cities Homeless Coalition now has the funding it needs to move forward with its controversial Hillside Church housing project — but it will likely be a long, difficult road ahead before such a project is, if ever, realized.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved allocations of $4.8 million in grant funding to groups around San Luis Obispo County that seek to reduce homelessness in the region.
Though most of the projects that received funding Tuesday were less than controversial — Paso Robles received more than $1.5 million to build a new warming center, for example — promising $2.6 million to the South County project was the subject of fierce debate, both among residents of the community and the Board of Supervisors itself.
Opponents of the project, which would add transitional housing and a youth dormitory in a Grover Beach, said it’s not safe to have such a project in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school.
Supporters said the project is needed in the region, which has lacked significant homeless services for years.
“People are angry, people are upset, people are still finding out about this — this is not going to go away,” Grover Beach resident Mark Rose said at Tuesday’s meeting. “There is no neighborhood support for this, and it’s going to continue.”
Neighbors have also threatened litigation if the project were to continue to move forward.
5 Cities Homeless Coalition, in partnership with Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, is proposing a two-phase housing navigation center project at the occupied lot at 1935 Newport Ave.
The first phase would renovate about 17,000 square feet of the existing church 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.
The project would focus primarily on putting and keeping roofs over homeless individuals’ heads.
“Housing is the only proven remedy for homelessness,” Pismo Beach City Councilwoman Marcia Guthrie said during public comment Tuesday. “I’m asking that this board give us an opportunity to build a great project that will complement the neighborhood and ease concerns.”
A board divided
The South County housing project divided the board, though all agreed they wanted the money to go to the 5 Cities Homeless Coalition.
“I really want to give 5 Cities the money. However, I can’t do it at this location,” Fourth District Supervisor Lynn Compton said during discussion Tuesday. She advised the Coalition and the cities of Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach to get together with a mediator, as well as some community members, to try to come up with a new plan.
“I want everybody to be happy and that’s going to be my suggestion,” Compton said. “I’m willing to give you the money, but you have to be serious about looking at other alternatives in South County. And you can’t do it in a residential area.”
Third District Supervisor Adam Hill, who was an adamant supporter of the project when it went before the county’s Homeless Services Oversight Council on April 3, disagreed with Compton.
“Our job is a hard job — it’s to do things that are sometimes going to be unpopular,” he said. “Any neighborhood will oppose pretty much anything that involves housing, especially housing of homeless people or low-income people. We’ve seen it.
“We have to ask ourselves questions about whether our only values are going to be reduced to property values, and whether we are going to try to give real help,” Hill said.
Supervisors Hill, Bruce Gibson and John Peschong voted in favor of allocating funding to the project, while supervisors Compton and Debbie Arnold both voted against, saying they wanted to condition the funds on the Coalition actively looking for a different location.
Peschong, the First District supervisor, urged everyone involved in the project to work together to come to a reasonable solution.
“I want you all to come together to have a discussion like adults and figure this out,” he told the packed room Tuesday. “I know that you are better than arguing about this and trying to killing each other off.”
Following the decision Tuesday, 5 Cities Homeless Coalition Executive Director Janna Nichols told The Tribune that the organization was “pleased with the vote, and appreciate the views expressed not only by the Board, but community as a whole.”
“We will be assessing how to move forward in the coming days,” she wrote in an email. “This vote allows the process for a project to move forward with further community engagement.”
In a separate email on Wednesday, Nichols added: “Solving homeless issues is not easy. It is certainly reasonable that we should be asked to work harder on behalf of all concerned. We are taking the comments by the supervisors to heart as we move forward with our project.”
The project is also still pending approval by the city.