- PHOTO COURTESY OF THE EL CAMINO HOMELESS ORGANIZATION
- HOMELESS SERVICES The city of Paso Robles is breaking ground on the site of its first homeless shelter, First Step Homeless Services Center, scheduled to open in June 2021.
In his State of the State address on Feb. 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom focused on the statewide homeless issue and his initiatives to help.
In his address, Newsom also stated that 1.6 million fewer Californians are living in poverty today than in 2011—which he said was a full quarter of the nation's decrease. While there has been progress in the state's economy and employment opportunities, the governor admitted that there is still a prominent issue surrounding homelessness.
"Every day, the California dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children, and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed," Newsom said. "As Californians, we pride ourselves on our unwavering sense of compassion and justice for mankind—but there's nothing compassionate about allowing fellow Californians to live on the streets, huddled in cars, or makeshift encampments."
In an effort to address all factors that lead to homelessness—including mental and physical health, a shortage of homeless shelters, and housing affordability—the governor signed Executive Order N-23-20. As part of the executive order, the Newsom administration made 286 state properties—vacant lots, fairgrounds, armories, and other state buildings—available to be used by local governments for homeless solutions for $1.
Two are in San Luis Obispo County—the Atascadero National Guard Armory and a property in Paso Robles located at 4545 Airport Road—and it's unlikely that either North County city will take Newsom up on his offer.
There are currently two shelters in Atascadero—El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), which is a program-based shelter, and Transitional Food and Shelter, an organization that oversees temporary housing and respective services and a temporary shelter hosted by a partnering facility.
At the tail end of 2018, the city of Atascadero considered a proposal by Transitional Food and Shelter to use the Atascadero National Guard Armory as a temporary overnight warming shelter for four months. If the city entered into an agreement with the nonprofit, the proposal stated that the city would take care of the costs of minor repairs within the facility, building maintenance, administrative costs, the cost for national guardsman (required for the security of military equipment), a security guard, janitorial service, and transportation for homeless individuals.
The city denied the proposal due to a lack of funding and information as well as the timeline between learning about the proposal and entering into an agreement being too short. Now that the state has made the armory available to the city at an economical cost, Atascadero has the opportunity to again consider using the space.
Terrie Banish, Atascadero's deputy city manager, told New Times that the city has no plans to explore adding a third shelter at the armory.
"The armory's proximity to the Fine Arts Academy, Atascadero Middle School, the Colony Park Community Center, Colony Park, and the all-inclusive playground present some challenges that would have to be examined and thought through before considering a no-barrier shelter at the armory location," she said.
The community, Banish said, strongly supports the two current shelters that are located within the city.
"Both shelters are doing amazing work here in the city of Atascadero, providing professional-level services for the homeless while garnering the support of the community," she said.
Banish said the city knows that "the number of homeless shelters here in North County is a challenge and the city strongly supports the new 35-bed shelter in Paso Robles."
North of Atascadero, Paso Robles is working to provide more than homeless services in the area.
The city is slated to open its first homeless shelter, First Step Homeless Services Center, in June 2021. The future facility located at 3100 Sulphur Springs Road will have 36 beds for individual and family sleeping areas, a dining room and prep kitchen, restrooms and shower facilities, a gathering area, laundry room, and staff offices.
At the beginning of the year, the city entered into an agreement with ECHO, handing over the management responsibilities of the facility to the organization.
Julie Dahlen, director of the Paso Robles Community Services Department, told New Times the city has been in regular contact with the state regarding the 4545 Airport Road site. Unfortunately, the potential use of the site is not as straightforward as the executive order would make it appear, Dahlen said.
Through the order, she said, the city could lease the property only as a "short-term emergency shelter" for people experiencing homelessness.
"'Short-term' has not been defined, but as indicated in discussions with the state, it would appear to be no longer than two to three years," Dahlen said. "And even then, only a portion could be usable for a shelter, due to the proximity to the Paso Robles Airport."
Its being close to the airport wouldn't allow the city to use any of the existing dormitories on the site. If the city were to use the site, it would have to construct a new shelter or use tents or some other type of shelter.
"Finally, 4545 Airport Road is located far from services, transit, and the like, making it a less attractive site for a near-term fix," Dahlen said. Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.