Editorial: South County’s homeless need help from the state

In an impressive display of cooperation, South County communities are banding together to establish a homeless services center somewhere in the Five Cities.

We’re glad to see it, because homeless services have been sorely lacking in South County. The region’s homeless population has been estimated at about 700, yet it has no overnight shelter or day center.

Thanks to a recent, $1.5 million donation from the estate of Erna and Hugo Klaproad, the South County should be able to make some significant progress in providing homeless services. The 5Cities Homeless Coalition is meeting regularly to develop an action plan, and there appears to be a new sense of determination to get something going.

In addition, the cities of Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande are trying to pool some redevelopment agency money to help fund a regional shelter. More specifically, the agencies propose to use a portion of the 20 percent of redevelopment funds that must be set aside for low- and moderate-income housing.

We believe this an excellent way to use these funds, but as Tribune writer Cynthia Lambert reports today, there are some legislative hurdles that must be cleared before that can happen.

We strongly urge the Legislature to act quickly to approve the necessary measures.

For one thing, legislation is needed to allow the agencies to spend redevelopment funds outside of their city limits. Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, has agreed to sponsor a bill that would allow Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande to pool their money, regardless of where the shelter is ultimately built.

But that’s not the only sticking point.

Under some interpretations of state regulations, this set-aside money can only be used for traditional housing, such as apartments or single-family homes.

Again, legislation is pending that would change that; Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, is sponsoring a bill that would add homeless shelters to the list of projects that could be funded with redevelopment revenue.

Both proposals are no-brainers.

Building a consolidated, regional facility clearly is the most cost-effective way for smaller communities to provide homeless services. Not only does it save on construction costs, it also reduces staffing and other operational expenses.

And we absolutely believe that a homeless shelter should come under the umbrella of housing.

Especially in economic times such as these, California must broaden the definition of housing assistance. There simply isn’t enough money to provide traditional homes for everyone in need.

Shelters, while temporary, have the potential to help many, many more people than a handful of apartments or single-family homes.

We strongly urge the state to give our local communities the flexibility they need to provide the services that will make the biggest difference in the South County.