Escrow closes on Prado Road site slated for homeless center

The property at 40 Prado Road between the Sunset Drive-In and San Luis Obispo corporation yard.
The property at 40 Prado Road between the Sunset Drive-In and San Luis Obispo corporation yard. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Escrow has closed on the Prado Road property planned to be a Homeless Services Center — ending more than a year of contention about where to build it.

The center will consolidate homeless services in San Luis Obispo and double the number of beds available in the city.

“We are just ecstatic,” said Jim Famalette, chief operating officer of the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County. “It has been a long road.”

There are only two year-round homeless shelters in the county providing a total of 85 beds: the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter in San Luis Obispo and ECHO in the North County. Several local churches also offer temporary beds when the shelters are full.

In January, a report prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that 90 percent of San Luis Obispo County’s homeless are unsheltered, making the county the third worst in the nation among small counties. There were 2,357 homeless people living in the county at the time.

CAPSLO partnered with the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority to purchase 9.7 acres at 40 Prado Road from Condor Enterprises LLC for $2.3 million.

With the land now secured, raising $4.5 million to build the center is the next priority. A quiet campaign has already been launched by the Homeless Foundation for San Luis Obispo County, raising about $1.6 million including $150,000 from the City of San Luis Obispo and $500,000 expected from the county.

A public campaign to raise the remaining money needed for construction will be launched in October.

Preliminary designs for the project are underway with the hope of starting construction by the end of 2015.

Local attorney John Spatafore, head of the new Homeless Foundation, said that as construction plans move forward, so will the dialogue about the best way to address the homeless population in the county.

“We are meeting with people from different parts of the county and the various nonprofit providers for the homeless to better communicate about sharing of resources, identifying problem areas and the best way to use available funds,” Spatafore said. “This center cannot become the oasis or Mecca where people from all over the county come to.”

The Homeless Services Center, once built, will replace the Prado Day center and the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter. Plans call for 100 beds with the capacity to add an additional 75 beds, a commercial kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, lockers and storage, as well as offices for caseworkers, a classroom for children and community and multipurpose rooms. Separate dorms for men, women and families will be built.

The project is in stark contrast to what was originally envisioned. In 2012 a capital campaign to raise nearly $8 million was delayed amid community concerns. At the time, a much larger 200-bed facility was planned.

CAPSLO used a $1 million California Department of Housing and Community Development grant to pay for its $742,500 share of the $2.3 million property, located adjacent to the Sunset Drive-In, and the transit agency paid the remaining $1.5 million with state and federal grants.

RTA will use its 6.5 acres to park and maintain buses and house dispatch and administration departments sometime in the future.

Spatafore said that attaining the property was the biggest hurdle in moving the project forward. Early last year, opponents, mainly business owners in the area, derailed a plan to build the center on a donated piece of land on South Higuera Street.

“It was always the question mark,” Spatafore said. “This is a location that people can say they feel good about — and things will now move a lot quicker. When things have question marks around them, they don’t move at all.”

Spatafore said the future will be about crafting programs at the center that will work to help end homelessness and about advocating for more affordable housing in the area.

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