Paso Robles News|Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Must! Charities and Wine Country Alliance partner to help homelessness prevention program 

ECHO shelter in need of voluteers

Must! Charities and the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance announced this week that they have committed to raising $175,000 to kick-start a homeless prevention program in partnership with ECHO (El Camino Homeless Organization). This program’s initiative is to minimize the increase of homelessness among North County individuals and families.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, individuals are now more than ever on the verge of homelessness. According to the most recent point in time census (2019) SLO County reported 1,483 homeless individuals. In North County the count was over 600. Currently there are only 50 shelter beds to serve those 600+ individuals. While there are plans in the works to increase the number of shelter beds, the community cannot afford to have an increase in the homeless population that already exceeds service capacity.

In looking at past data of the last economic downturn, the nation saw a 45-percent increase of people experiencing food insecurity and homelessness in a one-year time period. It is estimated this year the numbers will be significantly higher than that of the past recession in 2008, due to this pandemic uniquely devastating all sectors.

This program will build on ECHO’s current experience with assistance funding, adding screening tools, and referral and intake procedures for those currently housed. Assistance will encompass more than just financial relief as case management will ensure clients success and well-being in the program with an action plan, wrap-around support, and follow-up case management. Funding will result in far fewer homeless individuals and families than would otherwise be the case. This in turn will have positive economic and social impacts throughout the region, including less trauma, fewer dollars needed to support health and social service programs, an economy that rebounds more quickly, and a society with a stronger ethical foundation.

The $175,000 launch commitment will fund a full-time program/case manager for two years, and also allow $50K to start the prevention fund which the organizations are hoping to grow and build upon over time.

“We all have someone close who is negatively impacted by this pandemic, whether it be an employee, friend, neighbor, or loved one”, said Becky Gray, Executive Director of Must! Charities. “This is a great way to come together and help with a hand-up for those hit the hardest in our region.”

When the pandemic first hit, both organization leaders were fielding numerous phone calls and being asked what their plans were to help those in need in the community. They began talking and developed a plan to team up and strategize for the greatest community impact. Not wanting the throw money at a problem, Must! Charities had already begun their Venture Philanthropy work – pivoting to thoroughly vet what would be the biggest community needs and those organizations servicing the needs. Must! invited two members from the PRWCA to be a part of the vetting team. After many weeks of combing through data and researching and assessing community needs this project moved to the front of the pack.

“We are honored and excited to be working with Must! Charities on this project,” said Joel Peterson, Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “They have a proven track record of supporting the most needed services and individuals in our County, and this homeless prevention initiative is an important and much-needed program. I’m looking forward to making a positive difference together.”

Over the past three years must! charities has invested in ECHO resulting in the healthy, robust organization that it is today. ECHO’s model shows successful results as over 60% of individuals in the program have found jobs and transitioned into permanent housing.

Wendy Lewis, President and CEO of ECHO commented, “ECHO is grateful for the years of support and partnership with Must! Charities and are thankful for this new project. Their generosity has helped to transform our organization and provide the capacity to grow to meet the unmet needs of people facing hunger and homelessness in North County. We look forward to our new endeavor which will help people affected by the pandemic to remain housed.”



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About the author: News Staff

News staff of the Paso Robles Daily News wrote and edited this story from local contributors and press releases. Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or follow his blog. He can be reached at scott@pasoroblesdailynews.com.