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Safe solutions 

We want to help, but there has to be a better option than the homeless project proposed for the Five Cities

I am writing in response to the New Times' March 7 article: "Grover Beach could have its first affordable housing project." I am closely following the proposed homeless project at Hillside Church, only a half mile from our elementary school and a few doors down from my parents' home. The plan (which is dependent on a $4.8 million HEAP grant) has good intentions and plans for services that our homeless truly need, but is it in the right location?

This is an untested model for our county—combining the following all on the same property and in the middle of a residential neighborhood: a warming shelter, transitional housing (44 beds), and adults from the ages of 18 to 24 with a "jail-to-community" program.

The intent of the warming shelter is to provide a place to sleep overnight during the coldest nights of the year, or when there is a 50 percent chance of rain in the forecast. All homeless over the age of 18 are welcome. Sobriety is not a requirement, and no background checks are done. At our last neighborhood meeting, a parole officer shared that he has sex offender parolees who have stayed there. These overnight guests won't show up on Megan's Law, and when they leave the facility, they are in a school walking zone. How is this protecting our children?

Please understand my heart. I fully support the need for warming shelters, but I do not back a solution that places the shelter within walking distance of three schools, especially when guests may be paroled sex offenders. Since the warming center opened about two years ago (without neighbors' knowledge, on an administrative approval), neighbors have regularly found used needles, broken glass, alcohol, and human feces in the bushes along the same route where kids are walking to and from school.

I ask our civic leaders why they have overlooked their own general plan? Emergency shelters are defined in the development code as "facilities for the temporary overnight shelter of indigents operated by a public or nonprofit." The city has adopted an emergency shelter overlay to allow emergency shelters/warming centers to be permitted by right in certain areas of the city.

A drive through the overlay area on March 24 quickly located five appropriately sized parcels for sale. Instead of using the city's existing "emergency shelter overlay" zone, which is within walking distance from where many homeless currently congregate and camp, this Hillside Church proposal seeks to rezone this quiet neighborhood from residential to commercial. Currently, warming center buses are bringing the homeless from all over the Five Cities into the church neighborhood.

Also notable under Grover Beach's general plan in the housing constraints section of the housing element, it states, "Nearby residential neighborhoods must be adequately buffered from potential impacts of the proposed shelter." Where is the buffer? It is surrounded by children and seniors.

Let's ask project stakeholders to find a way to divide this ambitious, vital project so it accomplishes three essential goals: provides services to help those who need them most; keeps residential neighborhoods safe; and protects People's Self-Help Housing's proposal for a family-oriented, low-income housing project at the Hillside Church location.

This solution would better serve our homeless and under-served populations while looking out for two of our other vulnerable populations: children and seniors.

We all have a heart to help. We, as a community, want solutions that can change lives. We are at our best together. Let's find solutions that are safe and effective for our homeless. Δ

Becky Mosgofian writes with concern from Arroyo Grande. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and send it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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