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Next step for homeless center

San Luis Obispo will seek the county Airport Land Use Commission’s blessing Wednesday to rezone a 1-acre parcel on South Higuera Street at Prado Road for a 200-bed homeless campus.

The city needs the commission’s approval because the property in question is located within the airport’s flight path and, as such, falls under the commission’s Airport Land Use Plan. The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers in the County Government Center.

Although the applicant for the zoning change is Community Action Partners of San Luis Obispo County — formerly the Economic Opportunity Commission — the city is carrying the request because the property is within the city limits. The county owns the parcel in question.

The airport commission is a major hurdle that must be cleared before any residential development can occur within its purview.

With that in mind, the application stresses that the rezoning from “service/commercial” to “public facility” won’t set a precedent, is “unique” because it would be located near other public service facilities such as the Department of Social Services and Prado Day Center and “will meet an overarching community need that cannot be met at any other location.”

The campus concept is part of a strategy called “A Path to a Home: A Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness” that was endorsed by the county and the county’s seven incorporated cities in 2009.

The campus concept calls for 200 beds, a commercial kitchen capable of serving three meals a day, laundry facilities, showers, lockers and storage, offices for caseworkers, a classroom for children, and community and multipurpose rooms.

The projected cost of such a campus is between $4 million and $6 million. In addition to private donations, according to county planner Dana Lilley, the county and incorporated cities could leverage some of their Community Development Block Grant funds with state and federal agencies for grants and low-interest loans. Those within the homeless council are banking on much of the preparation costs being borne through pro bono work, such as by architect Chuck Crotzer, who assigned his Cal Poly third-year architecture students to develop designs for the campus.

Supervisor Adam Hill, who spearheads a group called the Campus Coalition in moving the facility forward, is adamant about the need for such a facility.

“The problem has become a crisis in our community,” he said. “Anywhere you go in our county, you’ll find homeless encampments — under bridges, along creeks and in empty lots. They’re all over, and we don’t have the resources to take care of them.”

The Homeless Services Coordinating Council has found that contrary to some beliefs, the county’s homeless are not transients, but homegrown.

According to a report released by the council last September, 38 percent of those homeless individuals said they are originally from San Luis Obispo County, and 26 percent have friends and family in the area.

“These numbers really show that the homeless are members of all of our communities who are facing a variety of challenges, namely the economy, unaffordable housing and access to services,” Lilley said in September when the concept of a Homeless Services Campus was unveiled.

As to the criticism that if such a facility is built, it will only encourage more homeless to move here, Hill replies: “That’s not the case. People would have gone to Santa Maria, Fresno or Monterey where there are such facilities.

“If we do nothing, the problem still exists, it won’t get any better. We’re looking to design a building that will reduce the nuisance factor.

Whether on the streets or in parks, police come out and roust them and they’ll go someplace else. The community is better served by having these resources.”

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