Letter: In response to the proposed Paso Robles homeless project
–On Oct. 20, 2020, the Paso Robles City Council discussed the Homeless Emergency Aid Program [ HEAP] Grant and Motel 6 Conversion Project. That was a surprise to the Adelaide Inn Motel, the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, and most of the Community. A North County Homeless Services hub has been discussed, behind closed doors, for a long time. Paso Robles’ neglect and hostility toward the homeless are well known in the community and efforts to discuss this topic ignite divisive rhetoric with lightning speed. The city really doesn’t like to talk about it. For years, Paso Robles looked the other way, while enforcement efforts to keep the homeless out of sight and deny any services that would compel a homeless person to remain in the community became, “The Plan.” The homeless remain, because this is their home. For decades the homeless have been encouraged to disappear in the riverbed. Local homeless took sanctuary from law enforcement, in the safety of Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction. When a local Non-Profit wanted to provide basic necessities to the needy, the City of Paso Robles confined their ministry to an empty parking. That was their best effort. A place without shelter from the weather, without electricity for lights, without water for hygiene, and without the structural ability to keep very impaired, very problematic individuals from entering the dinner. Just like the homeless, the volunteers were creative and found ways to continue serving the most needy among the community. This is their home. Advocating for parity services in a city with the second-highest rate of homelessness in the county has taken several years of hard work by many fine people. The initial HEAP grant was a partnership with the City of Paso Robles, ECHO and Paso Cares Homeless Services. The original 32-bed Warming Shelter would provide evidence-based services designed to promote healing and a positive way forward for the homeless. This project soon ballooned into a fiscal white elephant at the hands of the city. Did we need an additional 3,000 square feet in the building? The Cal Trans pedestrian access was a known detriment from the onset. Whether by design or incompetence the city dodged the opportunity to support homeless services.
The myth that the homeless choose to be homeless is a myth. A myth repeated by Mayor Martin and City Council. It comforts people to believe that the obvious horrific living circumstances by the homeless could not happen to just anyone. This past summer a reckoning culminated. On June 10, 2020, the City of Paso Robles was horrified when a mentally ill homeless man went on a criminal spree killing an innocent homeless man and seriously wounding two law enforcement officers before his life was ended. The homeless man who was killed was called a transient. He was in fact a well-known man, with family in town; a man named James Watson who lived on our streets.
For a moment our mayor reminded the community that James “was our Neighbor.” On June 22, 2020, a fire in the Salinas Riverbed destroyed homes, and property and was the last straw for residents tired of being victimized by the homeless. (That particular fire was not started by a member of the homeless community). The City Council authorized the homeless camp in an area known as Borkey Flats and announced that homeless campers would need to relocate. It was a mean spirited ill-advised fiscal and social disaster, Borkey Flats lies in an area that churns into mud at the slightest rain, is in a flood zone, offered no trees for shade, no privacy, was difficult to access and was surrounded by a fence with a security guard. Water was not adequately maintained at the camp, and the City Council made clear that showers for hygiene even in the time of COVID would not be provided. Like the First Step Homeless Services Center the poorly planned and executed Borkey Flats homeless camp was a disaster. The City of Paso Robles has failed in protecting our local environment, our community members, and the homeless. The allocation of the $920,126 HEAP Grant funds must be used to fund a homeless services project in Paso Robles or forfeit the funds to SLOCO for use elsewhere.
The city no longer has a choice. The choice has been taken away and perhaps that has always been the end game. The writer Carlos Levi wrote the book ”Christ Stopped at Eboli” to chronicle his confinement in the small town of Aliano in Southern Italy. Having angered the Facisct government of Benito Mussolini, Levi was banished to a town so forlorn, so miserable that it was said Christ himself would not go there. There, Levi found love, laughter, and a home. Aliano became his home. As hard as Paso Robles tries to create a miserable environment, the homeless will remain because this is their home. The quiet acts of goodwill by people who live here will continue. Two weeks ago a local Church came to City Park to help our homeless mourn the loss of a good friend. Ed Gallagher played the bagpipes to help say goodbye and God rest. Our friend died in his sleep at Pioneer Park, free at last from his pain. His life mattered. He was a son, a brother, an uncle, and a friend. Like James Watson, he lived in our community. He needed help for his sickness, a sickness that rejects help. Paso Robles needs this Motel 6 project. It will not help every homeless person, but it will help many. Those wishing to let the city know your thoughts about this project have a three-minute opportunity during a special session of City Council Thursday, Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Past President, Paso Cares Homeless Services
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