Transitions-Mental Health Association will open a new space for homeless people living with mental health issues in San Luis Obispo in the coming year.
TMHA will soon begin renovations to an existing building at 1118 Palm St. — which is listed as a historic property — with the goal of completing the project by September 2023.
As part of TMHA’s Housing NOW program, participants will have access to their own studio. The program has a ‘housing first’ philosophy to provide stable housing before seeking to address other issues faced by homeless people.
“You put (homeless people) in housing, no questions asked, and then let them stabilize and start to understand what they need,” said Michael Kaplan, director of community engagement at TMHA. “Nights in prison are disappearing and trips to the emergency room are decreasing. You save money for the city – this investment is definitely worth it.
With the property already purchased, Kaplan said the TMHA can expect an additional $2 million in public funding, as well as $300,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the renovations.
“One of the things I really like to say to our private donors is, ‘Hey, for every dollar you give to a project like Palm Street Studios, we match it with four or five dollars from other grants from the ‘state, county, city,’ Kaplan said.
Total financing for the purchase and renovation of the property was $2,984,741, Kaplan said.
What will the new housing project for the homeless look like?
Palm Street Studios will consist of an office with eight accommodations: six studios inside the existing structure and two secondary suites on the property to come at a later date.
Louisa Smith, the project’s architect, said designing the new dwelling inside a historic property presented unique challenges.
“Our requirements were that we basically had to maintain the building, at least on the outside,” Smith said. “We practically gutted the interior.”
The building was once a residential home, Smith said, but was used as a boarding house and later as an office building.
Today, the building rediscovers its residential roots.
Smith said the current building was built in two phases and the accommodations will be divided accordingly.
Four units will be built in the original structure, with the other two being installed in the two-story addition and two ADUs being built in the rear yard. All eight units will be accessible via their own entrances, with laundry facilities on site.
This isn’t Smith’s first collaboration with TMHA — she’s collaborated with the organization multiple times in 30 years.
This long history of collaboration, she said, made it easier to secure the necessary grants for the project.
“The city of San Luis Obispo just looked fabulous,” Smith said.
The remodeling process will begin in January 2023 and the ADUs will be installed by August 2023.
Why is the TMHA moving to permanent housing?
Kaplan said TMHA can do more with non-congregate living space for homeless people like on Palm Street because of the flexibility that owning a property can provide.
“Every time we own the property, we can make some really, really nice upgrades that just improve the quality of life for our customers,” he said. “It’s just a question of being able to move quickly in this type of market.”
Providing individual studios as permanent accommodation for homeless people is part of an ideological shift away from larger, more public shelters that offer less permanence and security.
Kaplan said this permanent housing strategy has its downsides, such as losing some of the incentive for homeless people to move into their own permanent lives, but this approach could work better to provide clients with the care they need. they need.
“The goal is to move them in, start offering them services — both primary care, behavioral health care (and) work opportunities if they’re looking for that,” he said. “(We) see what they need to continue to live there successfully.”