This is an example of community partnership at its best. The project represents a win all around, for the county, the city and our neighbors in need. —Anne Renee Wyatt

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BACKGROUND: Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA) is a non-profit organization serving San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara Counties. Our Mission is dedicated to eliminating stigma and promoting recovery and wellness for people with mental illness through work, housing, community, and family support services. A growing part of what we do is to provide homes for people in treatment and recovery.

In April 2014 TMHA signed an Option to Purchase Agreement with the County of San Luis Obispo, to buy the former Sunny Acres Orphanage on 1.3 acres with the intent to restore and reuse it as affordable housing for our clients. To avoid confusion with the Sunny Acres Sober Living facility on Los Osos Valley Road, we named the project Bishop Street Studios. We plan to build permanent, supportive housing in the form of one-person units for independent living.

PROJECT SCOPE: The Option Agreement requires restoration and preservation of the old orphanage as a condition of sale of the site. The approved plans include three additional buildings for a total of 34 residents, including a Resident Manager who will live on-site and monitor the property, act as property manager with regard to repairs and maintenance, and be available for resident needs.

NEIGHBORHOOD IMPACT: The current Sunny Acres building is derelict and littered with drug paraphernalia and graffiti. The project includes restoration of this piece of local history and make it an attractive home and landmark for members of our community. The same team that designed the Nipomo Street Studios in San Luis Obispo has applied their skills to this project.

OPEN SPACE: This project site is slightly more than one acre of the approximately 30-acre County-owned parcel. The land surrounding the site will continue to be owned by San Luis Obispo County, and there has been no change in the status of that land.

FUNDING: The estimated $12 million project will be funded through a combination of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, State Mental Health Service Housing Funds, City affordable housing funds, Affordable Housing Project funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank, and local donations.

CLIENT BASE: Residents of this project will be TMHA clients, typically our most self-sufficient mental health clients. These are men and women who may have struggled in the past, but are making great progress on their recovery journey. They know how to live independently, but are simply shut out of the local high-priced housing and rental market. A project like Bishop Street Studios will provide these clients with a reliable housing option. TMHA Housing staff will screen and interview clients for readiness and provide ongoing support throughout their tenancy.

ADMISSION CRITERIA: All potential Bishop Street Studios residents are referred to TMHA by SLO County Behavioral Health Services staff. Residents of this permanent, supportive housing must be over 18 years of age and have the skills to live independently. Residents must also agree not to use illegal substances and must abide by state and local laws, as well as the terms of the TMHA Residency Agreement. Potential Bishop Street Studios residents are interviewed and background screened, including reviewing the Megan’s Law registry, which would preclude eligibility. A candidate’s past case history is then reviewed with the referring Behavioral Health staff member. Finally, the potential resident attends a tour of the complex and participates in an interview with housing staff. When a person is selected for admission, a move-in date is set and a TMHA Case Manager is assigned to the resident. After move-in, the Case Manager meets with the resident and together they set up a resident-led case plan. The case plan incorporates input from all of the teammates working with the resident (Case Manager, Medication Manager, and Psychiatrist), and is reviewed and updated on an annual basis by the TMHA Case Manager and resident.

PERMANENT HOUSING: There will be no limitations on the length of stay for residents at Bishop Street Studios, and we anticipate long-term tenancies for this program.

ACCESS: Pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic will travel along the established road down to Bishop Street in order to access bus stops, employment and health services along Johnson Avenue and beyond.

BENEFITS: In the past 6-8 years, a great deal of attention has been focused on the best way to help people with mental illnesses recover. Permanent, supportive housing is frequently cited as an effective means for recovery and integration into the fabric of the community. We proudly point to our own track record: in our oldest permanent, supportive housing program, our current clients have been living in their homes for an average of 7 years. People who receive treatment and support for mental illnesses live productive, fulfilling lives and make very good neighbors.

At the same time, there is a chronic shortage of low-income housing in SLO County. TMHA clients have consistently requested individual housing such as studio apartments, and the Bishop Street Studios site represents over 30 new opportunities in the City of San Luis Obispo.

This site is ideal because of its proximity to downtown, TMHA’s employment site at Growing Grounds Farm, and County Behavioral Health offices where people receive mental and physical health care services. The site also includes the lovely historic Sunny Acres Orphanage building that has met with limited options for use throughout the years. Many people have looked for ways to restore it, but have had no success.

MOVING FORWARD: Updates will be posted on this website, as the project progresses into the construction phase. If you have questions regarding the Bishop Street Studios Project, please email us at bishopstreetstudios@t-mha.org.