New SLO homeless shelter overdue

Moving the location of the homeless shelter proposed for South Higuera Street to a large vacant lot at 40 Prado Road seems, at least at first blush, like an ideal way to move the project forward.

The Prado Road lot is large enough to accommodate both a new shelter and a maintenance and operations facility for the Regional Transit Authority. That means the RTA could team with CAPSLO — the nonprofit agency leading the shelter project — on purchasing the land and on making some necessary site improvements, reducing the costs for both.

There also would be more room for the shelter on Prado Road: 3 acres as opposed to just 1.

Another big consideration: The Prado Road site is the location favored by the South Higuera Street business community, which has bitterly opposed putting the shelter next to the county social services building on Higuera.

But we’re going to inject a word or two of caution here.

Among other hurdles, a Prado Road shelter project would have to go through the permitting process, including a review by the Airport Land Use Commission. And, if the project is to keep the $1 million state grant already awarded for the Higuera Street project, applicants would have to apply to have the grant allocated to the new location. On top of that, unless an extension is also granted, the project would have to be completed by mid-2015 in order to keep the $1 million.

Nor is there a guarantee that all opposition would evaporate. In his excellent Viewpoint published in Friday’s Tribune, Jerry Rioux, head of the SLO County Housing Trust Fund, points out that no matter where a homeless shelter is located, there is bound to be some opposition.

He’s right. We’ve seen that happen again and again in San Luis Obispo County, and not just with traditional homeless shelters. There were strong protests in Arroyo Grande, for example, to a church-run safe parking facility for just a handful of homeless people living out of their vehicles. In Grover Beach, the South County People’s Kitchen has been unable to find a permanent location where it can serve hot lunches.

However, if the business community is indeed willing to support the project at the Prado Road site — as business leader Bill Thoma had indicated in the past — that will make it much easier to rally communitywide support for the project. That’s going to be critical, both in raising funds during this pre-construction phase and in soliciting ongoing support once the shelter opens.

So, by all means, continue to look at the Prado Road site, but we again urge CAPSLO and others involved in the project to set a strict timetable and stick to it.

San Luis Obispo is overdue for anew shelter. The old Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter was outgrown long ago, and is in sorry shape. And again, further delays could jeopardize the $1 million grant.

There can be no more excuses, and no more delays. If the Prado Road site is not going to work out — and that should be apparent within a matter of months — then it’s time for the community to take a stand and move forward with the original plan for a shelter on South Higuera Street.