Patti Diefenderfer moved to the Central Coast from Maryland about 30 years ago to leave an abusive marriage. She brought her daughter, her dog and her car.
But shortly after moving in with a friend in Santa Maria, plans changed. The friend’s boyfriend was moving in, and Diefenderfer and her daughter would have to go.
They lived in their car for about a month.
“It is not fun to sleep in your car with a 14-year-old and not know where your next meal is going to come from,” Diefenderfer told more than 65 people gathered Tuesday night at a forum in Arroyo Grande exploring homelessness.
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Diefenderfer is now president of the 5Cities Homeless Coalition’s board of directors. The forum gave Diefenderfer and others with the nonprofit a chance to share information about its plan to create a center in South County to provide services to people who are homeless.
The county’s most recent homeless enumeration report counted 3,774 individuals without permanent housing. Of those, 26 percent live in the South County from Avila Beach to Nipomo.
But services have long been lacking in this region of the county. South County People’s Kitchen in Grover Beach provides a hot daily meal, but other services are scarce or scattered.
The 5Cities Homeless Coalition aims to build a 20,000-square-foot South County Community Services Center to provide a health clinic, a children’s center, a computer lab, career and housing assistance, job training, laundry facilities, showers and a permanent home for People’s Kitchen.
The cost to buy the land, build the center and operate it for the first four years is estimated at $6.5 million.
Diefenderfer fielded numerous questions about the plan. One person asked why the coalition was focusing on a day center and not an overnight shelter, and Diefenderfer noted that when the group surveyed the homeless population, the need for a one-stop center rose to the top.
However, the facility may be able to be used as a warming shelter if needed. Later, they’ll study possibilities for an overnight shelter.
A committee was formed to identify potential sites for a center. The group is looking for properties in Grover Beach, Oceano and Pismo Beach — communities that were determined to be the most accessible to the population the nonprofit hopes to serve.
The group also wants a property that’s at least 2 acres and is in a nonresidential area that meets city or county land-use rules, said Tom Clough, a member of the coalition’s board of directors.
In the 18 months since the group started searching, it has made four offers on separate properties, three of which were unsuccessful, he said.
One offer is still outstanding, but Clough declined to provide any details about its location, price or size.Once a site is chosen, the coalition will launch a campaign to raise $5 million.
An additional $1.5 million has already been earmarked for the project, thanks to a bequest from former Oceano residents Erna and Hugo Klaproad to the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation. Their estate donated the money on the condition that it would be used to help the homeless in the Five Cities area.
For additional information about the coalition and its plans, go to http://5chc.org.