Supervisors approve Welcome Home Village along Johnson Avenue



The city of San Luis Obispo will be home to an 80-bed hamlet for the homeless who once lived in the Bob Jones Trail encampment corridor.

Unanimously backed by the city's Planning Commission, the proposed Welcome Home Village project appeared before the SLO County Board of Supervisors for approval on May 21. Supervisors authorized the project resolution in a 3-1 vote, with 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold dissenting. Third District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg recused herself "due to an abundance of caution" because she lives near the intersection of Johnson Avenue and Bishop Street—the site of the incoming project.

COMFORT TO ALL SLO County officials attempted to reassure community members worried about the safety of the Welcome Home Village by stating it's modeled after other successful DignityMoves projects, including Hope Village (pictured) in Santa Maria. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES
  • File Photo Courtesy Of SLO County Department Of Social Services
  • COMFORT TO ALL SLO County officials attempted to reassure community members worried about the safety of the Welcome Home Village by stating it's modeled after other successful DignityMoves projects, including Hope Village (pictured) in Santa Maria.

The approval arrived after community members packed the meeting room, airing concerns about living near a supportive housing facility for the homeless.

"My concern stems from the decision about the location, in particular, the data that is being presented as it relates to a facility of this size in a neighborhood that's so densely residential," said Melissa Schneider, a SLO resident who lives near the proposed Welcome Home Village. "I've looked at the sites and locations of other DignityMoves facilities ... and nothing of this size exists ... nor does it exist in a location that is about a thousand feet away from a preschool."

SLO County announced in April that it chose the Johnson Avenue and Bishop Street corner for Welcome Home Village as an extension to the Health Agency campus. Placing the 34 interim- and 46 permanent-supportive housing units there would bring the homeless residents closer to the campus network of behavioral health resources, like the crisis stabilization unit, substance misuse disorder clinic, and mental health treatment services.

Bound by a time-sensitive $13.4 million Encampment Resolution Fund, the county zeroed in on the location after its original plans to set up Welcome Home Village behind the Department of Social Services headquarters on Higuera Street collapsed.

Los Angeles attorney Paul Beard II wrote a critical letter to the Board of Supervisors last September, alerting it about an alleged lack of consultation with the surrounding residents and business owners on Higuera Street. Beard's letter, which laid the groundwork of a legal threat, called for an environmental review—something the county tried to forgo through a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption. However, the underlying zoning for the Higuera Street location prohibited residential use, disqualifying the county from a CEQA exemption.

The new proposed location at Johnson Avenue doesn't require a CEQA review, which the Board of Supervisors ratified at the meeting. The supervisors also approved a ground lease with site management and resident services provider Good Samaritan Shelter, greenlit a development management agreement with modular home developer DignityMoves, and authorized the Department of Social Services to process a $6.7 million pre-payment to the developer to buy modular units for the project.

County officials tried to assuage community concerns by modeling the Welcome Home Village program after successful housing projects like 5Cities Homeless Coalition's Cabins for Change in Grover Beach and DignityMoves' noncongregate housing in downtown Santa Barbara.

Special Projects Program Manager Jeff Al-Mashat said the Welcome Home Village project won't repeat the mistakes of the now-closed Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site. The new program will have round-the-clock security with video cameras included, strict curfews for participants, and a ban on visitors.

"I think as someone more familiar with the Oklahoma project than anyone, this will be nothing like the Oklahoma project," said the one-time site manager of the safe parking site. "I think our biggest challenge with the Oklahoma project was that we didn't have case management on at the beginning, and we were unable to find a site manager to manage the project."

1st District Supervisor John Peschong, who cast the decisive vote to approve the Welcome Home Village project, admitted he approached the meeting with a denial on his mind.

"For those of you who don't know, my nephew was a Cuesta College student who got addicted to heroin and died of a heroin overdose, and he was homeless at the time," he said. "What I heard today is the kind of thing that I would have hoped he would be offered to get clean and sober." Δ


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