After several years of operating employment programs for homeless people, a local nonprofit is now in the process of opening a center in downtown Half Moon Bay to better provide services to its clients.
At the Oct. 15 Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, Abundant Grace Coastside Worker was awarded $300,000 toward purchasing property for a workforce development center. The money is part of the purchase price for the building at 515 Kelly Ave., formerly operated as the Senior Coastsiders Thrift Store. San Mateo County has pledged a similar amount from Measure K tax funds, and organizers say they are raising money through a loan and private donations to finish purchase and begin the work.
“We intend to use this as a base of operations for our employment program,” said Executive Director Eric DeBode. “I have come to see how profoundly important work is for people to feel part of something bigger than themselves, to achieve success ... It’s what we hope to see. People growing into a better place in their lives around employment, housing and their well-being.”
The initial design of the building includes space for a kitchen, laundry facilities and showers, office space for case management, an internet and computer lab, and a closet for clothes.
Abundant Grace currently operates two employment programs for homeless people. The first is a food justice program, which employs people to work on a farm growing food for low-income residents. The other is the Coastside Coastal Clean Team, which pays homeless people to clean the beaches in the city.
DeBode said he intends for the center to be open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week, with the potential to increase hours of operation as programs expand. Workers can gather at the center before they start their shifts and will enter the west driveway onto a patio in the backyard.
DeBode is also collaborating with nonprofits LifeMoves and Coastside Hope to allow their case managers to operate in the development center to service clients that all three nonprofits share in common.
The total cost of purchasing the building and completing renovations is about $1.1 million.
DeBode said his organization is in escrow on the property. “They’ve agreed to sell it to us and we’ve agreed to buy it,” DeBode said. Escrow will close once all the money is paid to the seller, which he anticipates will be in January 2020.
All five council members voted to approve the nonprofit’s request. The money comes from the city’s affordable housing fund, composed primarily of development fees.
“This gives me the first sense of real hope that we can actually make a difference,” said Councilwoman Deborah Penrose. “We can be a model city. These are our neighbors and our friends.”
Councilman Adam Eisen expressed concern over the location of the center that will be in close proximity to Cunha Intermediate School and the Coastside Boys and Girls Club.
“My job is to protect the community. We need to be sure we address all those voices,” Eisen said. “Location is an issue until fully vetted, it is hard to support.”
“It is close to all the services they need, close to shopping, close to medical care,” said Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock. “I think it is important for all members of our community to be visible and not hidden away. Through visibility comes compassion.”
The location on Kelly Avenue is ideal, according to DeBode, because Abundant Grace workers already congregate in this general area and other social service providers are in close proximity with offices at Shoreline Station. Over the last few months, DeBode said he’s been meeting with representatives from Cabrillo Unified School District and neighboring businesses to explain his project proposal and acknowledge potential concerns regarding safety.
“I see this as a step to improving the current setup, which is where we just meet at the corner near the gas station. Now we will be on private property with the entrance to the building in the rear,” DeBode said. “Not everybody is a drug addict or a sexual predator. Those are stereotypes.”
Some residents in attendance at the City Council meeting voiced support for DeBode’s proposal.
“We are helping people gain their dignity and self confidence,” said Half Moon Bay resident Meta Townsley.
The city’s funding is contingent on DeBode meeting the permitting requirements and on the final purchase of the property. If the permits are met, this will mark the first time a loan of this size has been given by the city to a nonprofit, according to City Manager Bob Nisbet.
While the workforce development center is not an affordable housing project, city officials think it will provide a bridge toward housing for some.
“What I think is they (City Council members) envision this is a piece of the larger puzzle to get people into affordable housing,” DeBode said.
DeBode hopes to service about 10 to 15 people each day at the center. Beyond just providing bathrooms and showers, a kitchen and storage areas, DeBode is planning for a computer lab to assist people with creating their resumes and cover letters.
At the Nov. 5 City Council meeting, a loan agreement for the $300,000 will be on the agenda for final approval. While both city and county money are structured as loans, the money would belong to Abundant Grace, free and clear, if terms of the deal are reached. Abundant Grace is continuing to seek donations to contribute to the costs of the building and for renovations. Donations can be made at: abundantgracecw.org.