Paso Robles is on track to have its first-ever homeless shelter up and running by the start of winter.
But it won't be at the new facility the city had planned to build near the Salinas River. Instead, it will be at a former Motel 6, which the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO) just purchased with $12.4 million in state grants.
Three local housing organizations—HASLO, Peoples' Self-Help Housing, and the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO)—collaborated this summer to pursue one of Gov. Gavin Newsom's Project Homekey grants.
- Photo Courtesy Of Peoples' Self-help Housing
- MOTEL TO HOMES Three local housing groups are taking over a Motel 6 in Paso Robles to operate the city's first homeless shelter and 63 units of low-income housing.
The new statewide program put $627 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds toward helping local agencies buy motels and other facilities to turn into homeless and low-income housing. It was a spin-off of Newsom's Project Roomkey, which leased motels to counties to house homeless individuals with COVID-19.
"Because it'd been successful in getting people off the street right away, the governor's thought was, 'Let's keep them housed,'" Peoples' Self-Help Housing CEO Kenneth Trigueiro told New Times. "We said, 'This looks like probably a prime opportunity if we can find a motel that is suitable to meet the state guidelines.'"
Project Homekey's launch came around the same time Paso learned it would cost an estimated $2.7 million—three times more than expected—to build its proposed 37-bed shelter facility on Sulfur Springs Road.
"It didn't look like the project with the city was going to go through, and I think it was very serendipitous that that same week, we were hearing that Project Homekey was coming up to be an opportunity," Trigueiro explained.
Led by HASLO, which administers Section 8 vouchers for all of SLO County, the partners found the 122-bed Motel 6 on Black Oak Drive on the market and applied for the grant.
On Oct. 16, the state announced a $15 million allocation—enough to acquire the motel and run a 50-room homeless shelter and a 63-unit low-income housing project for two years.
Trigueiro said he expects the operation to be self-sufficient after two years and that all three entities are committed to the project for at least five years.
"The great thing is there's no debt. It's just the operations costs of maintaining and paying staff," he said. "HASLO is playing the lion's share of the role as property manager. And then ECHO will be operating, probably through a lease arrangement, those 50 rooms [for a homeless shelter]."
The Paso Robles City Council discussed the project in October, ultimately endorsing it. While the Homekey program is designed to move quickly—bypassing local land-use authority and environmental review—the property's new use will still comply with Paso city zoning. That was a big reason for choosing that location, Trigueiro said.
At an Oct. 29 special meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to give a $1.5 million state grant it was going to spend on its homeless shelter to the new project. A city staff report stated that the motel conversion will "provide low-barrier emergency shelter necessary to help facilitate relocation of homeless person camping in hazardous areas of the Salinas River and other areas of the city."
Councilmember Steve Gregory pointed out that the city will receive both homeless services and 63 affordable housing units at virtually no cost.
"There's nothing the city has to give up," Gregory said at the meeting. "We have this opportunity. It didn't maybe happen the way we thought it would, but this is an amazing, amazing gift to our community."
Some residents and business groups questioned the project's location, process, and neighborhood impacts. During the Oct. 29 meeting, 33-year resident Debbie Trinidad asked the council "to slow down" and "properly plan" a project.
Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce President Gina Fitzpatrick shared her members' disappointment with the "opaque" process and asked for stronger engagement with the business community.
Stacie Jacobs, executive director of Travel Paso, pointed out that the project is located in "a major corridor of Paso Robles where nearly 450 hotel rooms reside." She asked that nearby hoteliers be consulted about security plans.
"Hotels in that area are concerned about becoming known as located next to 'Paso Robles Homeless Shelter,'" Jacobs said.
Project leaders agreed to keep an open dialogue with the community as well as implement a variety of security measures—from surveillance cameras, to fencing, to having on-site staffing.
Wendy Lewis, CEO of ECHO, which operates a 50-bed homeless shelter in Atascadero, said that the tentative name for the Paso shelter is "First Step."
"We'd be open to conversation, but we really do think that's a great name," Lewis said on Oct. 29. "It's someone's first step really into getting resources that ultimately lead to housing."
ECHO's shelter portion of the project will open shortly after the property sale closes on Dec. 2.
"We do see a critical need," Lewis said. "In our county, 74 percent of the people counted [as homeless] were born and raised here. They were our neighbors, our parents, our kids." Δ
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