Homeless may get shelter in Five Cities

Officials in two South County cities want to use redevelopment money to help build a shelter to serve the homeless population in the region.

But first, those in organizations working toward helping the hundreds of homeless people living in the South County have to determine what should be built, where it should be constructed and how it will be funded and maintained.

Another need is to win state support to take funds set aside for low- and moderate-income housing and allow the money to be used instead to fund emergency shelters.

Spurred by a $1.5 million bequest from an Oceano couple, representatives from local governments, the county and groups that provide services to the homeless have been meeting regularly to discuss how to best address their needs.

The money from Oceano couple Erna and Hugo Klaproad was donated on the condition that it would be used to help the homeless in the Five Cities area.

Those efforts are being led by several groups, including the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation, which received the money, and the 5Cities Homeless Coalition, a group formed with the intent to build and staff a facility serving the homeless.

So far, their aim is to first build a day center that would provide a permanent place for the South County’s People’s Kitchen, a hot-meals program, as well as a health clinic, mental health services, drug and alcohol counseling, a veterans affairs office and job assistance.

Coalition members hope to eventually also build an overnight shelter.

5Cities Homeless Coalition board president Patti Diefenderfer said Friday, “We are cognizant of the fact that a shelter is a priority as well.”

“We are trying to get all our ducks in a row, and we know we have the support of our elected officials in the area,” she said.

The focus, she added, is to find a location, work with the various agencies and ensure the project has funding to make it sustainable.

And that’s where the cities of Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach may be able to help.

Redirecting money

The Grover Beach City Council recently passed a resolution to support legislation by Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee. It would let the city use money set aside for housing-related projects within the city for a regional facility for the homeless.

The Arroyo Grande City Council approved the concept in January and will consider a similar resolution at its Tuesday meeting.

Under state law, redevelopment money in municipalities’ Low to Moderate Income Housing Funds has to be used for the construction, rehabilitation or preservation of such housing. Under current law, redevelopment agencies are required to set aside 20 percent of their funds for low- and moderate-income housing.

The proposed legislation — affecting only Blakeslee’s district, which encompasses San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County — would allow the two cities to pool their money toward the construction of a homeless shelter for the Five Cities area.

“Given the dire economic times we face, we want to afford our cities every flexibility we can to address these needs,” said Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.

Assembly Bill 2406 is currently in spot form, meaning it was introduced as a placeholder until Arroyo Grande officials consider their resolution next week and Blakeslee’s office can finish working on the bill language.

But the cities’ intentions may hit another snag. The state Department of Housing and Community Development believes that California’s redevelopment law does not permit the use of the redevelopment housing money for developing or operating emergency shelters.

“An emergency shelter is not a housing unit,” said Cathy Creswell, the deputy director of Housing Policy Development. “An emergency shelter is considered more of a group quarters. It doesn’t meet the census definition of what a housing unit is.”

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, has introduced Assembly Bill 2759, which would “redefine the term redevelopment to include improving, increasing or preserving emergency shelters for homeless persons or households.”

Christine Robertson, Blakeslee’s chief of staff, said his office is working closely with Nestande to coordinate efforts.

If both bills are eventually signed into law, the Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach city councils would still need to decide how much money could go toward a project in the Five Cities area.

Arroyo Grande has $230,000 in its redevelopment fund for subsidized housing, City Manager Steve Adams said. The state may take about $400,000 from the city’s redevelopment fund to fill California’s deep budget deficit, but that wouldn’t affect the fund for low- and moderate-income housing.

Grover Beach’s low- and moderate-income housing fund currently has about $1 million. The state may take about $378,000 of the city’s redevelopment money, which City Manager Bob Perrault said would come out of the housing fund. The fund would have to be repaid within five years.

If the idea does move forward, Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals said, the city doesn’t want to see its money used for ongoing operation and maintenance expenses.

“We just want to do a big push and get something under construction with the 5Cities Homeless Coalition and other providers,” he said.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated on Twitter by following @SouthCountyBeat.