Overdue homeless shelter should not be relocated

It’s been more than two years since an application for a much-needed Homeless Services Center was approved for South Higuera Street. So why are we revisiting the issue now?

The project already has been well vetted: Three different public agencies had a hand in signing off on it, and there has been widespread community support.

Yet as Tribune writer Ann-Marie Cornejo reported last Sunday, some business owners in the South Higuera/Prado Road area continue to actively oppose the shelter. Their biggest concern is security — they say they’ve already been experiencing thefts, vandalism and other problems in the area, which has seen an increase in the number of homeless people living in cars and campers. Business owners are afraid the problems will increase if a shelter opens.

There are concerns, too, that the project is too large for the 1.1-acre lot. The shelter is being designed to accommodate as many as 200 clients, though a representative of CAPSLO — the nonprofit that will operate the facility — said there initially will be 100 beds, along with a reception area, commercial kitchen and dining room, restrooms, laundry facilities, achildren’s area, a community room, office space and other amenities.

We understand that some people will be vehemently opposed to this project, no matter what.

We suspect, though, that others might be willing to give the project a chance, as long as they are confident that the shelter will be well designed and operated.

But to gain that trust, there must be communication between the project’s supporters and the neighboring businesses. By some accounts, that has been lacking; some Prado-area business owners told The Tribune that they’ve been left out of the loop. They were aware of the project when it was proposed, they said, but have heard nothing about it for more than a year, even though they were promised that they would be involved in the planning.

Proponents, though, point to various outreach ef for ts that have taken place, including a meeting with neighborhood business owners held a couple of months ago.

Here’s our take: Regardless of how many meetings or emails or outreach efforts there may or may not have been, it’s clear that there are still unanswered questions and concerns.

It’s not too late to remedy that. Construction is still at least a couple of years away; that’s certainly time to present plans, gather feedback and make any necessary modifications.

That may require revising the design or adding some conditions to the use permit. So be it. That sort of give-and-take often results in a much stronger project.

But please, at this late date, let’s not even think about finding a new site. That would set the project back who-knows-how-many years, and it would jeopardize a $1 million state grant that must be used within two years — possibly three if an extension is granted.

Such a delay is unthinkable. A comprehensive Homeless Services Center is needed now, not 10 or 15 years from now.

The existing Maxine Lewis Shelter is too small — it has only 49 beds — and is falling apart through age and use. Also, homeless services are spread out at various locations; putting them under one roof makes far more sense both for clients and staff.

Remember, too, that the current location wasn’t chosen lightly; some 20 sites were analyzed, and again and again, the South Higuera Street site came out on top. Among other advantages, it’s close to public transportation; it’s within walking distance of downtown; it’s in a mixed-use area that includes residential, office and light industry; and because the land is owned by the county — which agreed to lease it to the shelter — that helps keep costs down.

We cannot go back to square one. We must make it clear that we are committed to moving forward with plans for a Homeless Services Center on South Higuera South.

We urge the entire community — public officials, churches, business advocacy groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, nonprofit agencies, law enforcement, private citizens — to join in supporting a project that’s already overdue.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.