Due to COVID restrictions, the shelter turns away about 15 people per night

PASO ROBLES — On Dec. 7, 2020, the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) opened its first shelter in Paso Robles, located in the former Motel 6 at 1134 Black Oak Drive, and on Dec. 7, 2021, they celebrated their one-year anniversary.

ECHO was formed 20 years ago and operates three overnight shelters in Atascadero and Paso Robles. The Paso Robles facility is running as a full-service shelter with several emergency shelter rooms, a meal service program, and case management supportive services, the first for Paso Robles. This past year, over 15,000 nights of stay have been provided, and over 600 unduplicated men, women, and children have received support through ECHO.

While it is great to see numbers like this, ECHO President and CEO, Wendy Lewis, says, “We have to see that person and know them personally and know their story. Everyone’s story is different, but it’s pretty amazing for our staff and for myself to be a part of someone’s journey back into housing and to be able to support them along the way.”

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She continues, “It’s been really neat to see from an organization standpoint that the work we are providing is helping a community and changing lives.”

It’s no secret that people have been taking shelter in the Salinas Riverbed that runs through Paso Robles for years. But that is something Lewis and her team were fully aware of, “Going into this project, we knew there was a lot of population housed in the riverbed, and we were hoping to connect with them to reach them and give them their first access to these types of resources in Paso Robles.”

She recounts that some of the residents the organization has helped in its first year had been living in the riverbed for over ten years.

COVID has inevitably played a role in a lot of their residents seeking support. Because of COVID in one way or the other, some have lost their homes or jobs. But whatever their reason for needing support, Lewis says, “We find for the most part it’s circumstantial, and something in their life has led them to where they are at and having the community and resources like ECHO be there for them is the safety net they need to get back into housing and employment.”

However, due to COVID restrictions and protocols, the facility can only take 45 people per night, forcing them to turn away around 15 people each night. The only other shelter for Lewis and her team to refer people to is ECHO’s Atascadero location. In Atascadero, they offer a residency program, showers, daily dinner, and seasonally an emergency winter shelter. This shelter is currently open until Mar. 31. 

Within Paso’s first year, they have met many milestones:

Number of Clients Housed: 47

Number of Clients Employed: 50

Number of Clients Entered into 90-Day Program: 21

Number of Meals Served: 18,595

Numbers of Showers: 400

Through a community outreach survey, Lewis received concerns from the public regarding the shelter bringing in people from out of the area seeking their services. However, she has found that 80 percent of the people they serve identify as Paso Roblans.

“It’s every aspect of the community from people who have worked all their life to an 18-year-old with a family tragedy and someone who has had a medical crisis, so its a combination of these different things that lead someone to needing the help, but it is people that folks from Paso Robles grew up with, or their child might be in their child’s class. It really is people from their community who need the support,” Lewis says.

One success story is that of Brian. A veteran that served his country but nonetheless became homeless. After a short stay with ECHO, he found housing through their veteran’s assistance partners. When their supporters found out he had very few possessions, they rallied to send several items to start his new life in his own home. He was and continues to be very thankful and hopeful about his new start in life.

It is thanks to 1,500 community volunteers who help run the facilities and meal programs at each location serving over 100 meals each evening to shelter residents and the homeless population. 

Several businesses and community members support and believe in the work that Lewis and her team are doing for the North County. For example, on Monday, Jan. 24, Z Villages owners Mike and Max Zappas donated $11,000 that will go directly into helping support the mission of ECHO.

Recently, SLO Motion Shoes in Templeton donated over $3,000 worth of shoes to aid in outfitting the homeless population with much needed quality footwear. Another donation of $5000 came in from Central Coast Center for Spiritual Living that will help maintain the ECHO garden, among other programs. 

It is because of these generous donations, community support, and grants that the team at ECHO can help the people in our community find their footing again regain personal confidence.       

“At this important milestone, we would especially like to thank the community believing in our mission for Paso Robles,” says Lewis, “we’ve had so many donors, businesses, civic and religious organizations become involved that we are humbled at the outpouring of support.”

For more information, please visit echoshelter.org