The Paso Robles City Council unanimously voted Tuesday, Oct 1, to enter into a one-year staffing contract with the El Camino Homeless Organization, an Atascadero based nonprofit.

Nearly a year ago, the City declared a shelter crisis in order to be eligible for funds from California’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP). The City collaborated with ECHO in requesting HEAP funds to build and maintain a homeless warming facility on Sulpher Springs Road in Paso Robles. The grant request included bankrolling a full-time case manager supplied by ECHO. The grant proposal asked for a total of $1,799,702; $588,797 for EHCO and $1,210,905 for the Paso warming facility.

However, the funds received fell short by nearly $300,000. ECHO received its original requested amount, while the City received $920,126. HEAP funds are issued by the state and distributed by San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

To address the shortfall, the City staff recommended to outsource the position and hire a full-time ECHO homelessness manager with funding also provided for ancillary support from Paso Cares, an existing nonprofit that provides a week-day dinner meal, lunch on Saturday and dinner on Sunday year-round and operates a warming station during the winter months.  Paso Cares also works with other agencies to connect guests to other nonprofit and government organizations.

Paso Cares Boardmember Gerald “Jerry” Stover voiced concerns that personnel provided by ECHO would be inadequate to address issues for Paso’s homeless. ECHO’s methods differ from that of Paso Cares. The latter coordinates with five churches to find housing after feeding those in need whereas ECHO assigns caseworkers to their clientele to provide guidance and essentially helps them to help themselves.

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“I’m concerned about what ECHO will be doing,” said Stover, “what these people need is not caseworkers, they need social workers who do drugs and alcohol.” Stover went on to say, “I’m just really upset with the City and feel like we’ve been stabbed in the back.”

In response, Paso Robles City Community Services Director Julie Dahlen told the Council that City staff had been in “constant communication” with Paso Cares President Gail McNichols who told her that ECHO’s assistance would be most welcome.

“The intent, I still believe, is what it originally was in the grant and that is to build a shelter, utilize Paso Cares and the City, and now ECHO getting involved, and design a shelter that works here in the North County. That’s it. There is no other ulterior motives,” Dahlen said. 

The approved plan allows for a one-year contract for a full-time North County Homelessness Manager, who will also develop written policies for the center, recruit, and coordinate volunteers in conjunction with the Paso Cares organization, and further prepare for a fully operational Paso Robles homeless center to open in spring 2021. The manager will also assist the City through the design and construction phase of the homeless center. The agreement allows the option to extend the position after the completion of the first year.