Despite widespread public support for a privately run workforce development center to aid the area’s homeless people, Half Moon Bay City Council continues to have some safety concerns related to the building’s location.
At the Dec. 3 council meeting, nonprofit Abundant Grace Coastside Worker, which is asking the city for a $300,000 loan to open a new headquarters at 515 Kelly Ave., faced some apprehension over how clients using the center would be vetted. The council met on Tuesday night, after Review print deadlines, and the matter was on the agenda.
“People have raised concern about the location of the center and I’ve been in dialogue with law enforcement to open the channel of communication of concerns people have with children,” Abundant Grace Executive Director Eric DeBode said.
The development center would be near the Coastside Clinic, Cunha Intermediate School and the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside. Once complete, the center is intended to be a hub for the nonprofit’s employment programs. It would provide showers, bathrooms and office space for other county providers.
Abundant Grace hired more than 70 people this year in its various programs, including employing homeless people to clean the beaches in the city and working on a farm to grow food for low-income residents.
The project has interested City Council and it secured approval from the Planning Commission last month. However, at least one council member was unsure how Abundant Grace could verify the backgrounds of the clients using the center.
“The issue for me is merely asking someone is not enough. We need to have some other database of knowing,” Councilman Robert Brownstone said. “This location has raised some concerns that create an extra due diligence.”
Brownstone asked city staff to establish a process for Abundant Grace to conduct criminal background checks on the homeless people it employs.
As part of the loan agreement, Abundant Grace is required to comply with a safety and security plan including building fencing around the property and installing security cameras. It also mandates the nonprofit will not allow anyone with an outstanding warrant or who has restrictions prohibiting them from being near schools on the property at Kelly Avenue.
Abundant Grace often hires people on the spot, which makes it challenging to submit a background check on each client, according to DeBode.
“Anyone who has restrictions on them will not be able to come to the center,” DeBode said. “We have done everything to discourage loitering in front of the center by having people enter through the driveway in the back of the building.”
DeBode is also working with volunteers from a local church who have offered to assist in the mornings by offering coffee and supervising children as they walk to school.
Per the city’s loan requirement, the nonprofit is responsible regarding safety and security of the center. Failure to comply could result in termination of the loan.
DeBode anticipates the entire project to cost about $1.1 million. He has also received assurances that San Mateo County will kick in another $300,000.
“I am hoping they approve the funding. I think it’s a great step forward,” DeBode said. “…. It is important to get to know the homeless population so we do not fear them. We can create and manage a safe workforce site, then we can accompany people on the hard journey on responsibility.”