HASLO, PSHH, ECHO collaborating to renovate purchase, renovate Motel 6

PASO ROBLES — Paso Robles could have a homeless shelter by December or sooner. Realistically, the long-awaited resource could open not long after the sale of the Motel 6 in Paso Robles is final, sometime in the first half of November.

The Motel 6 on Black Oak Drive will be converted to provide over 100 rooms of emergency housing for homeless and low-income housing after the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo was awarded $15 million from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey.

HASLO, El Camino Homeless Organization of Atascadero and Peoples’ Self-Help Housing are collaborating on the project that will see $12.4 million go to purchasing the motel. Roughly $1 million will be used for renovations and the remainder will support the combined facilities for the next two years, said PSHH CEO Ken Trigueiro.

“We are very excited about this project,” Trigueiro said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We certainly believe it will help.”

ECHO will lease 50 of the motel’s 122 rooms for emergency homeless housing and form the First Step Center.

“It’s a big miracle,” said ECHO CEO Wendy Lewis. “It is going to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

ECHO operates a safe and secure overnight 50-bed homeless shelter in Atascadero. Clients are provided case management services to secure a job and find permanent and sustainable housing. While enrolled in the program, clients are taught life skills for employment, budgeting, health care management and social interaction.

“The motel is in really good shape,” Lewis said. “We will duplicate a lot of what we do in Atascadero.”

Sixty-three of the rooms will be for low-income housing once kitchenettes are added. HASLO and PSHH will operate the yet-to-be-named permanent housing project. The nine remaining units will be used for operations by the three entities.

“People could start in the shelter and end up in permanent housing,” said Trigueiro, adding that the services they receive from the agencies would help with stability. “It’s not just about getting them in a home. That’s a goal, but now that you have a home, let’s keep you housed.”

The award comes from the state’s Homekey program, a follow-up to a program known as Project Roomkey that temporarily sheltered homeless people in hotel rooms.

A total of $600 million was set aside for Homekey, the majority of that funding, $550 million, comes from the state’s share of COVID-19 relief funding, and the rest comes from the state general fund. According to Newsom’s office, the funding was to help people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

Paso Robles has seen the highest number of COVID-19 cases in SLO County with 1,105 as of Nov. 2.

According to the last Point in Time survey, Paso Robles had 239 homeless people, many of whom live in the Salinas Riverbed camps. The City of Paso Robles put together a fire abatement program for the riverbed and cleared out people, directing them to a temporary shelter on Borkey Flats.

“Paso Robles has no emergency shelter, and also has a higher proportion of non-white residents than the county as a whole, and a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases,” a news release from the state Governor’s Office announcing the award. “This project will provide both emergency shelter and permanent units.”

Plans for a permanent shelter in Paso Robles were on track after the City received $1.5 million in state Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funds from the County in March of 2019. With assistance from ECHO, Paso Robles was planning to build a shelter on Sulphur Springs Road.

The design process for Sulphur Springs revealed significant shortfalls in the original budget estimate of just under $1 million to construct the center, with an updated cost estimate of nearly $2.7 million.

Faced with this extreme project budget shortfall and the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council voted to terminate construction plans for a homeless center at Sulphur Springs. The City would need to reallocate its HEAP funding to a new project in Paso Robles or forfeit it to the County.

HASLO, PSSH, and ECHO requested that the City reallocate its portion of the HEAP grant to support this project. Doing so would trigger a match from the state. Council voted 5-0 to reallocate the funding to HASLO at a special meeting on Oct. 29 with more than 10 stipulations, including the facilities be self-sufficient for five years.

Section 8 will help fund the low-income side of the facility. Homekey funds are expected to help with sustainability for the first two years.

The project does not need council approval. Gov. Newsom recently signed AB 83, providing land-use “streamlining” for projects awarded Homekey funds. Such projects are allowed “by-right” and are not subject to discretionary local permit review or approval process before proceeding with the project. Homekey projects are also California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exempt if they meet outlined requirements.

The Motel 6 is close to the busy Highway 101 and Highway 46 East intersection, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, the Paso Robles Event Center and three popular hotels.

HASLO, PSHH and ECHO realize some businesses in the vicinity are not going to be happy with the project. Each has been successful with similar facilities elsewhere.

“We hope people will see this more of a solution than a problem,” Trigueiro said. “At least now, there will be somebody for people to call besides the police.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles