If homelessness is a problem in the happiest city in America, it can be a problem anywhere.
This was the message bestowed to a crowd gathered in the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Arroyo Grande during a forum to discuss homelessness and a planned South County Community Services Center.
County Supervisor Paul Teixeira emceed the event, which began with a shortened version of the documentary Homeless Not Hopeless (In the Happiest Place in America). The film’s producers edited a smaller version of the film—which features interviews with a number of homeless people in San Luis Obispo, including a couple featured in New Times’ “Homeless Project”—to present at such community gatherings. Financial support for the film came from the San Luis Obispo Homeless Services Oversight Council, according to the film’s website.
In Arroyo Grande, the documentary was just the headliner to the unveiling of a planned daytime services center for the Five Cities.
“Without services, it’s almost hopeless,” 5Cities Homeless Coalition President Patti Diefenderfer said.
The 5Cities Homeless Coalition is still trying to secure land to build its 20,000-square-foot center. Diefenderfer said the organization has a potential space in mind, but wouldn’t identify where just yet. If the land is secured, the coalition has $1.5 million squared away to begin the permitting and construction process. The center—which will provide meals, laundry, case-workers, and job-finding services—is expected to cost $6.5 million.
The south county area has scattered services, but the center would provide a one-stop day center in the Five Cities. Speakers at the July 31 panel said they decided to build a day center based on survey results. They hope to open the center as a warming station during bad weather events, and perhaps to consider overnight services in the future.
One resident asked whether local churches could provide overnight shelter. The answer? The permitting process is a total mess.
Indeed, Arroyo Grande recently launched a pilot program to allow people to park and sleep in their vehicles overnight at one local church, but the proposal continues to meet opposition from residents.