History of the 5Cities Homeless Coalition

The idea of the 5Cities Homeless Coalition began with one individual recognizing the needs of the homeless within our community. Patti Diefenderfer, who currently heads up the Special Population Health Services department for Community Health Centers in Grover Beach, has spent the last several years interacting with the homeless population on the Central Coast. As a result, she has become keenly aware of the need for services and assistance to this section of the population that is currently not being met. She decided she wanted to do something about it, which resulted in the first step of the creation of the 5Cities Homeless Coalition. Patti started the work of assembling people with the heart and expertise for helping the underserved population in our community.

Shortly afterward, Patti met Betsy Ehrler who heads up the South County People’s Kitchen in the 5-Cities area. The People’s Kitchen has been serving meals since May of 1991. For over 20 years, teams of volunteers from throughout the 5-Cities area have given selflessly by making and serving food 365 days of the year. With 35 different teams representing 18 local churches, a team from Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, and the Santa Maria Rescue Mission, over 300 volunteers are actively involved each month. Unfortunately, over the years the People’s Kitchen has had to shift locations several times, causing needless disruption to the flow of the great service provided. As its vision is realized, the 5Cities Homeless Coalition will help by providing a permanent location for the People’s Kitchen to call home.

Both Patti and Betsy operate from a place of compassion and truly seek to help the less fortunate of our community. Together they went to work on a plan to build a coalition of people and organizations in the 5-Cities area. As other like-minded people were drawn to the organization, discussions began on how to bring about positive change to help the less fortunate of our community. When people locally were asked whether they thought a day center or night shelter should be a priority in the 5 Cities – the overwhelming answer was a day center.

In 2009, an exciting opportunity became available, when the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation received a generous bequest of approximately $1.5 million from Hugo and Erna Klaproad. The Klaproads were former Oceano residents with a passion for helping their community. Hugo and Erna instructed the Foundation “to provide shelter and other services to the homeless not otherwise provided by public or other benefits, with emphasis to be placed on the immediate relief and needs of the homeless in the Five Cities area of SLO County.”

San Luis Obispo County’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness declares “helping community members exit homelessness for the long term requires not only assisting them assessing housing, but also supporting them in obtaining the services they need to obtain ongoing health and stability.” With the guidance of the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation, the Klaproad Initiative was formed with local leaders from an array of public and private sectors who met for eight months in 2010 to forge a comprehensive plan to establish a new multi services facility or center in the Five Cities area. They directly addressed the needs of the South County’s homeless population by supporting the coordination of a comprehensive array of services to help stabilize and move them into housing. Following the culmination of the Task Team’s work, the Five Cities Homeless Coalition submitted grant proposals to the Community Foundation for various capacity building activities to prepare them to take on this important project.

In December 2010, the SLO County Community Foundation awarded a grant to the Five Cities Homeless Coalition to conduct a thorough search for potential properties in the South County. Working with local consultants and municipalities, the Coalition identified sites and analyzed their sustainability and viability.

In March 2011, the Community Foundation awarded a grant to the Five Cities Homeless Coalition to conduct a Fund Development Feasibility study. The study will determine the fund development potential for a capital campaign to build a South County Community Services Center and fundraising related to ongoing operations of the Center. Additionally, the Coalition has been funded to conduct Board Development and Training in anticipation of a successful  capital campaign.

The San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation is investing in the South County community to create conditions for success.