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Paso Cares seeks winter help with homeless

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The Paso Robles nonprofit Paso Cares is asking the city and community for some extra help with the area’s homeless population this winter after losing a crucial helping hand: the Second Baptist Church.

“The city of Paso, business owners, property owners, people who have a passion for this—we need you to come forward and help,” said Cherie Michaelson, president of Paso Cares.

Paso Cares is working to establish warming stations for the winter—which are temporary shelters, like a church, where individuals can go when the weather conditions turn dangerously frigid and wet. They’re asking the community to offer a location for Paso Cares to screen individuals and provide a meal prior to sheltering them.

HELPING OUT:  A volunteer with the Second Baptist Church hands out dinner to a man who needs it in June. The meal service, called the People’s Kitchen, closed in August after 30 years. - FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • HELPING OUT: A volunteer with the Second Baptist Church hands out dinner to a man who needs it in June. The meal service, called the People’s Kitchen, closed in August after 30 years.

“It’s just one meal,” said Michaelson, who can be reached at 712-7067. “We need a place to monitor them and feed them and that will enable them to be housed in the warming shelter.”

Last winter, the Second Baptist Church served as that location, but in August, it decided to close its “People’s Kitchen,” which has provided a free lunch for 30 years and dinner for 13 years to people in need five days a week.

Pastor Gary Jordan told New Times that the church property was being abused and the mealtimes started becoming unruly.

“It was really hard decision,” Jordan said. “But I could not with a clear conscious do it here anymore.”

The need for more services, resources, and volunteers for the homeless is immense. According to a SLO County Point-in-Time count in 2015, Paso Robles is home to nearly 300 homeless individuals—yet the city doesn’t have a homeless shelter.

Last winter, the city staged a $70,000 clean-out of the Salinas Riverbed where about 50 homeless camps had been established. Lt. Ty Lewis of the Paso Robles Police Department told New Times that patrol officers routinely check the riverbed for new camps.

“We want to prevent people from starting camps at the river. It’s a really bad area,” Lt. Lewis said. “It’s not only damaging to the ecology there, but we pulled out tons and tons of waste.”

But cleaning the riverbed doesn’t make homelessness go away, which Lewis says his department is aware of.

“We’re really trying to do what we can,” Lt. Lewis said, “but we’re realizing, at least as a police department, that this goes way beyond our capabilities.”

Michaelson said the homeless have dispersed across the city in recent months and it’s become more difficult to find them and provide help.

“We don’t know what’s going on out there,” Michaelson said. “We need to check in with them. We need to talk and pray with them.” 

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