PASO ROBLES — The City of Paso Robles is putting together a $1.7 million grant proposal for a pilot program to provide services for homeless in the North County.
The City Council voted 4-0, Mayor Steven Martin was not at the Feb. 21 special meeting, to have staff proceed with the HEAP (Homeless Emergency Aid Program) grant application process with the County of San Luis Obispo. The deadline to submit the application is 9 a.m. on March 19.
City of Paso Robles Community Services Director Julie Dahlen is taking the lead on the project and outlined their plan during the special council meeting. The City is looking at setting up a warming shelter on Sulphur Springs Road near the wastewater treatment plant and providing other services at the site to the homeless with the grant money.
“We have been working on this for some time, strategizing, bringing parties together and coming up with ideas to establish a warming shelter in the City of Paso Robles,” Dahlen said and explained there is a need for homeless services in the North County, specifically Paso Robles.
“We know we are certainly experiencing a homelessness crisis,” she said. “Back in 2017, the count was at about 97 people, and I believe the impression was that was low at the time. Current estimates are now about 300 people experiencing homelessness in the Paso Robles area.”
In November 2018, the City Council declared a homeless shelter crisis, which is a prerequisite to receive HEAP funds.
San Luis Obispo County was allocated $4.8 million in HEAP grant funding. Subtracting out their administrative costs and the requirement to expend some of that to address homelessness specifically for youth in the County, that leaves about $4.1 million for the grant applicants, Dahlen said.
“We are intending to request about $1.7 million of the $4.1 million that is available,” Dahlen said. “It’s about 40 percent of the $4.1 million and we feel it’s the North County’s fair share based on the number of persons experiencing homelessness here. We also need to factor in that Paso does not have an official warming center so we are sort of building from the ground up.”
Currently, Paso Cares, volunteer-run entity, provides an evening meal for homeless and people in need and coordinates a rotating warming shelter at area churches during the winter months. Representatives of Paso Cares and the ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization) in Atascadero were at the Feb. 21 meeting and gave their full support to the City of Paso Robles, something that Dahlen said would be a key factor for the County. The City of Atascadero has also met with Paso Robles staff and officials and is willing to provide a letter of support.
“Our ability to collaborate with partners, that is something we heard again, and again, and again when we spoke to people that are overseeing this grant is they are really looking for significant collaboration in the grant applications,” she said.
Dahlen said some of the other major areas the County will be looking at would be to demonstrate sustainability, readiness to address and carry through with this project, and feasibility of that completion, and finally locally support.
“It would be very important to get the word out to our community, to our volunteers, to those concerned with homeless to get as much support behind this project as possible,” she said.
The County sees this one-time HEAP funding as an avenue to helping programs get a good running start. HEAP does not require any matching funds, Dahlen said.
The City of Paso Robles will be the lead agency for the grant application, administering the grant and then distributing funds with their partners in this effort.
City property adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant, about .68 acres, is where the proposed warming center would be located, Dahlen said.
The pilot plan includes the installation of three 1,000 square feet steel buildings that would provide separate quarters for men, women
Onsite services would include the continuation of daily meals as Paso Cares is already providing and some sort of mobile bathroom and shower and laundry facilities.
“That is just the start of what we would like to do to address this issue,” Dahlen said.
First, the City needs to work out the details of its application.
Next steps include facility design and site plan, both necessary components of the grant application; and budget estimates for the buildings, for all of the required supplies, and for the staffing. Since this is a one-time grant, the City will also be offering ideas for sustainability.
“We want to seek solutions,” Dahlen said of their overall approach to the issue of homelessness.