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Plan for new homeless center in San Luis Obispo moves forward

Jannes Giesell

Services for the homeless in San Luis Obispo are set to expand greatly as plans for a new homeless center are moving forward with an infusion of $500,000 from the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors last month.

For those living on the streets of San Luis Obispo, life is made a bit easier with the help of food and shelter services, but currently there are two main centers offering different services in the city and they're more than three miles apart.

At the Prado Day Center, families and other clients working to make positive changes in their situation are provided with employment resources and meals. But there is no place to stay the night. For that, they currently need to move across town to the overnight accommodations offered at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter.

Plans are in the works, however, to combine these services under one roof.

"The thought has been to replace the two of them with one center, in order to simplify things for the homeless folks and utilize those services and also to minimize the impact on the city by having folks have to transport from one end to the city to the other to have a consolidated location," said County Administrative Officer Dan Bukshi.

 There will be also changes in the way services are going to be provided at the new center. Eligibility will be based on a sobriety program, which means only people who are drug and alcohol free can use the center's services. This rule is intended to make the atmosphere better for families, children and people who are making an effort to get off the streets.

The new location will be directly across the street from where the current day center is located on Prado Road. Its construction is being overseen by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO). 

"It was really almost miraculous that the timing was such that the Regional Transit Authority was also looking for some land where they would be able to eventually move their facility and maintenance yard and parking to," said CAPSLO Deputy Director Grace McIntosh regarding the acquisition of a 9-acre parcel that will serve both needs.

The most recent numbers on homelessness in San Luis Obispo County show that on any given 24-hour period, nearly 9-out-of-10 homeless persons are without shelter. The statistics come from the Survey of the Homeless Services Oversight Council of San Luis Obispo County from 2013.

Dax Daniels is trying to get back on his feet with the help of the day center and shelter. He talked to a counselor to help him get priority so he doesn’t have to worry about a bed, but he says the shelter can’t provide a bed for everyone.

"There are some people that are my friends and they are not on priority and they are full at night and they can't get in at night," said Daniels. "But if they open up a shelter there will be more people allowed at the shelter, there will be more beds and more people will be able to take advantage of the niceness."

Initially plans called for the center to be built on South Higuera on a one-acre piece of land, but a group of business and property owners expressed concerns about the location. So organizers began looking for a new place to build the service center.

The President of the Homeless Foundation for San Luis Obispo County John Spatafore says shifting the location was the key to getting the community behind the project.

"They supported the new site. They donated time and money and they're going to contribute all effort that's possible to see this happen," said Spatafore. "So the community in general is behind this concept at that location."

At the beginning of the year, Spatafore helped develop a foundation to work as the collaborator between the community and key partners. One of their top goals was to raise the needed money for the center.

The Homeless Foundation is now working to raise the anticipated $4.5 million to complete the 25,000 square foot building on the site. By August they had already raised $1.67 million, and they are—according to Spatafore—confident to raise the remaining amount, allowing them to break ground on the project next year.

"We are going to have a silent campaign for the next 60 to 90 days where we will be raising another, probably, two million dollars," said Spatafore. "And then in November we are going to have a public event, and then we will involve the entire community in general to raise the last four or five hundred thousand dollars."