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ECHO helps people transition from homelessness to home 

UP to 60-percent of the beds at ECHO are occupied by families.

UP to 60-percent of the beds at ECHO are occupied by families.

The only homeless shelter in North County has operated since 2001

–Started in 2001, ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization) is the only homeless shelter in North San Luis Obispo County. The organization was first operated by a small group of people who provided overnight shelter for the North County homeless population by moving 30 cots from church to church every month or two. Today, from its permanent location in Atascadero, ECHO provides food, shelter and a network of support services that focus on helping individuals and families out of homelessness.

Today, ECHO has 50 permanent beds and four family rooms, a community room with a reading corner, music corner and computer center and the capability to serve up to 80 dinners every day. Of the available beds, 40 – 60 percent are occupied by parents and children. Everyone who may be experiencing homelessness is invited to dinner. Beds and family rooms are reserved for those who are participating in the 90-day program that helps individuals and families transition from homelessness to affordable housing.

In a county where living expenses often outstrip wages, homelessness can be a real possibility for many families. According to the 2016 report published by the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County, “Vital Signs: Understanding San Luis Obispo County,” the minimum hourly wage necessary to cover the basic living expenses in SLO County equals “$12.40 for an individual and $27.11 for a family of one adult, one preschool child, and one school-aged child.” Basic expenses include housing, food, child care, health care, transportation, and taxes. In May 2016, the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported $17.39 as the median income in San Luis Obispo County.

Losing a job, suddenly becoming a one-income family, or a rent increase can put individuals and families out in the street. Not everyone has the personal resources and support systems such as helpful family, to tide them over while they gain their bearings. This is where ECHO makes a difference in helping with the transition away from being homeless.

Within five days of entering ECHO, a client is required to work with a case manager to develop an action plan to get back home and become self-sufficient. Clients have 90 days to work their action plan. Of those who complete their plan, there is a 70-percent success rate. Clients who are actively working their plan may have more time at the shelter if circumstances warrant.

One of the services ECHO provides is an on-going job search workshop taught by a volunteer who helps clients search for employment, write resumes and practice interviewing. Every client who has taken this class has found employment.

The computer center is part of the ECHO job search program as well as helping children with school work.

The computer center is part of the ECHO job search program as well as helping children with school work.

Executive Director Aurora Williams credits much of ECHO’s success to volunteers and community support. ECHO is 73-percent donation supported with the remaining coming from government and other kinds of grants. Fundraising events by ECHO include the annual “Empty Bowls” event, scheduled for April 27 this year.

Community support comes in many forms, including a recent donation of new double-pane windows. The windows are installed at no cost to ECHO through the efforts of Don Vert, Sales Manager for Paso Robles Glass who talked Milgard Windows into donating the windows, and an additional $2,000 raised by the Atascadero Rotary Club. In total, $12,000, including the windows, was contributed. The children’s playground was donated by the Atascadero Kiwanis raising $23,500 to pay for a playground and Doug Lapp, Central Coast Park and Recreation Company, donated his time to design and install the equipment.

Playground donated by Atascadero Kiwanis.

Playground donated by Atascadero Kiwanis.

Volunteers contribute to a large part of the organization’s operations and success. Currently, ECHO has seven paid staff members and works with as many as 1400 volunteers over the course of a year. “The volunteer time that is donated is what makes ECHO a real asset to the community. We offer a million dollar program for pennies on the dollar. In the past fiscal year, we had over 800,00 volunteer hours donated. This was anything from yard maintenance to overnight chaperones. Meal providers donate not only time but also the food to feed up to 80 people each night,” said Williams. The estimates are that volunteers save ECHO close to $300,000 per year.

A recent partnership between Must Charities and ECHO is resulting in a laundry center at ECHO. For now, clients receive vouchers to do personal laundry at local laundromats and volunteer laundry angels take other laundry home to wash, dry, fold and return to the shelter. The partnership with Must Charities will help ECHO better serve the needs of the homeless population in North County. The initial phase of the partnership is strategic in its nature and includes a review of capital, personnel resources, and board of directors development with strategic planning.

The ECHO shelter and offices are located at 6370 Atascadero Mall, Atascadero. For more information about an event, volunteering, donating or the programs call (805) 462-3663 or visit ECHO’s website

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.

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