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Opposition doesn't halt SLO supportive housing 

Green ribbons adorned many shirts at the Nov. 15 San Luis Obispo City Council meeting.

The council heard from community members seeking to combat mental health stigmas and support an affordable housing project to serve individuals with mental illness. 

Transitions Mental Health Association (TMHA) is working to renovate a building built in 1931—formerly known as Sunny Acres Orphanage—into the Bishop Street Studios, adding three more structures to create a total of 34 one-person units. These units would not only provide affordable housing for TMHA clients but programs and support services as well as assistance from an on-site resident manager.

Community members Ray Righetti and Lanny Hernandez appealed the SLO Planning Commission’s earlier approval of the project, saying they were concerned with the cost of the project, the type of supportive housing, and the individuals who would be housed in the program. Both men praised TMHA and the work it does for the county but said the project could be better suited somewhere else. 

They proposed transforming the building into a center for the arts where artists could have a creative space. 

Righetti ended the presentation with the sentiment that many community members worried about the individuals who would soon be their neighbors, “Not because of who they are but the problems that may occur after they take residency there.” 

Michael Kaplan, development manager for TMHA, said he supports and participates in the arts but this “very hypothetical” project has no sustainability or funding plan.

“This is not a center out of a love for the arts; it was born out of a fear of supportive housing and to me that taints it and makes it half-baked and not worthy of your consideration,” Kaplan said. 

Public comment consisted of 25 people who supported denying the appeal, calling for an end to the stigma of mental health and to provide affordable housing for those in need. Those commenters included representatives from Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, Housing Authority San Luis Obispo, and the League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County. 

Nearly all of the commenters wore the telltale green ribbons or a sticker that read “support for housing.” 

TMHA Executive Director Jill Bolster-White said that the ribbon is from a campaign called “Each Mind Matters,” which is an advocacy movement for mental health. The main goal of the campaign is to give a voice to those with mental illness, put an end to stigma, and create a comfortable community of support. 

The council unanimously voted against the appeal and granted TMHA the approval to move forward with the project. Bolster-White said she  hopes the project will break ground in 2018. 

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