The Half Moon Bay City Council this week agreed to invest $300,000 into a workforce development center for homeless people despite some concern about its proximity to a school. 

The new center, to be located at 515 Kelly Ave., would provide office space for nonprofit Abundant Grace, which for years has run employment programs for homeless people in the city. It would also be a place where homeless people can take showers, do the laundry and meet with case managers. 

“We are proposing funding for this project in order to improve our services and deliver positive outcomes for people,” said Eric DeBode, executive director of Abundant Grace. “I’ve heard many, many times how a safe, well-managed space that has showers and laundry and other services would be a huge help for people finding work and housing to get back on their feet. … I look at this as an investment that improves the quality of life for Half Moon Bay and the community.”

On Monday, the council unanimously agreed to loan Abundant Grace $300,000 from the city’s affordable housing fund that could be forgivable if the nonprofit meets certain milestones, said City Manager Bob Nisbet, adding that details are still being worked out.

Councilmembers celebrated Abundant Grace’s contribution to the community and most of them happily signed off on the loan, though it will be contingent on the project securing the necessary permits. 

“This gives me the first sense of real hope that we can actually make a difference,” said Councilwoman Deborah Penrose. “This program, from everything I’ve heard about it, sounds like it’s one that works, it has been working and can’t have anything going forward except success.”

Abundant Grace has raised a total of $1.25 million, which includes a grant from the county, to purchase and renovate the property.

The nonprofit currently employs homeless people to clean up beaches and walking trails in the city and also cultivate produce at nearby Potrero Nueva farm that is given away to low-income residents. For four years, the program’s workers have been meeting at the gas station next door to 515 Kelly Ave. before their shift and there hasn’t been one problem during that time, DeBode said. 

Still, some residents are concerned about the safety of students who may walk by the workforce center on their way to and from nearby Cunha Intermediate School as well as the Boys and Girls Club. Vice Mayor Adam Eisen spoke to those concerns during the meeting, though he ultimately voted to approve the loan. 

“I have serious reservations about this project with regard to location,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot from the community and that’s hard to hear.”

Eisen urged DeBode to meet with all relevant stakeholders, including the school and club as well as the PTA. DeBode said that outreach has taken place and will continue to occur, adding that the property will have a picket fence preventing it from being a waiting area and workers will enter the building via the west driveway.

“We’ll staff and manage the property with the children’s safety as our top priority,” DeBode said. He also offered to adjust work hours so they don’t overlap with school hours. Currently, work hours are scheduled to be 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.    

DeBode’s proposal will also need approval by the Planning Commission and concerned parties will have an opportunity to be heard during that process. 

A majority of councilmembers agreed that additional outreach is necessary, but suggested concerns about the safety of students are overblown. 

“I believe the danger to the community is nonexistent. … The gas station is, if anything, more intrusive than having them in a sheltered environment,” said Mayor Harvey Rarback. “This is a real chance to show where the heart of this community lies and what we care about.”

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