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Paso Robles group working to open more warming centers for homeless 

warming center Paso Robles

One center remains open after storms

– A group of North County advocates has joined forces to make more warming and storm shelters available to homeless people. Currently, there is one shelter open two nights a week.

Paso Robles Church of the Nazarene, known as Paso Naz, has stepped forward to be the first shelter to fill the gap. Pastor Stephen Anastasia said he approached the church board of directors with the proposal to offer the church community room as a shelter and the board committed to two nights a week until April 15.

The shelter is open at 530 12th Street in downtown Paso Robles on Monday and Tuesday nights, between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. when the temperature is predicted to drop below 40 degrees or there is a 50% chance of rain. Dinner and breakfast are prepared and served by volunteers. There are clean, warm beds, fresh clothing if needed and a safe warm place to sleep.

Experiencing a need for shelter for his family when they were evacuated during the recent storms, Anastasia said he feels fortunate they had the church to turn to. “I became even more aware of the importance of offering shelter and meals to those who don’t have someplace to go when it’s cold or raining.”

Paso Naz was the first to open on Jan. 9 and 10. The Paso Robles Event Center provided shelter from Jan. 11-18 and Highlands Church opened on Jan. 19. Paso Naz is currently the only Paso Robles center that is open and will continue to be open on Monday and Tuesday nights until April 15 on cold and rainy nights.

Paso Robles warming center

“We need more locations,” said Anastasia. “Our congregation has stepped up to volunteer. We even have people from the community volunteering, but it’s a lot of work. It’s important work that can be much more effective when shared.”

Community volunteers turned out to help

The shelter program is funded in part by funds from San Luis Obispo County that were obtained in cooperation with a coalition of organizations including the Kayla Peach Memorial Foundation, Hope & Faith Street Outreach, Paso Cares, and LAGS Recovery Centers in Santa Maria.  The county has committed to pay 50% of the shelter program’s $19,890 operating costs through April 15.

The coalition, spearheaded by Aurora William, reached out to the county for assistance to provide shelters from the winter cold and January storms. The county funded the temporary shelter at the Paso Robles Event Center for seven nights while storms pounded the area. The center was staffed by volunteers from Paso Cares, local churches and community volunteers. The community efforts helped feed and shelter people who had no place else to go.

William, an organizer with Hope & Faith Street Outreach, who also holds a position with LAGS Recovery Centers and is president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said that more spaces are needed to provide shelter on any night that it’s cold or raining. “Our goal is to be able to provide shelter for up to 27 individuals on any given night,” said William. “Ideally these spaces will be within walking distance of downtown Paso Robles.”

Majority in need are senior citizens

Both Anastasia and William report that a large percentage of homeless in the Paso Robles area are older. “The first night we were open,” said Anastasia, “I noticed that all but one person was over 40.”

William said 60-70% of the homeless in the Paso Robles area are over 60 years old. “Some are using walkers to get around. Others use shopping carts, both as someplace to keep their belongings and for support when walking.”

Homeless seniors are a hidden population. “They aren’t as visible as the younger people we see out and about during the day,” said William. They tend to stay closer to where they sleep at night because it’s difficult for them to get around. Many have been chronically homeless due to long-term mental problems and many are also physically ill. “There is an informal group of us, including Paso Cares, who are out connecting with the homeless almost daily. We know them by name and they know us,” said William.

Providing temporary shelter from rain and cold is only part of the problem, William said. North County needs a facility that is easily reached by every homeless person who asks for help so that the resources they need are readily available to them.

“A family reunification program could go a long way towards helping,” said William. Mental illness can fracture families, often leaving the ill person with nowhere to go but the street. Helping families reconnect with a parent, sibling or another relative, from a safe distance, is healing for everyone. A reunification program could provide resources to help families gain a better understanding of mental illness.

William says she believes the area would benefit from a multi-level tiny house village that has different levels of living situations for different needs. Such a facility could also serve as a day center, providing necessary treatment and resources.

Austin Solheim, community engagement manager with ECHO said the staff in Atascadero has also noticed an increase in the number of seniors in their programs, “about 9% of our current residents are in that specific demographic,” and utilizing ECHO’s resident and nightly shelter programs.

Currently, there are no official warming centers in Atascadero. Solheim said ECHO opens its doors, “in situations like we experienced earlier this month to be a safe place to any in need of somewhere to dry off, get a warm plate of food, and access resources.” Solheim said ECHO will be at 100% capacity in the coming days as the case management team has already enrolled new participants.

Paso Robles warming center

Volunteering for the Paso Robles shelter program

The Paso Robles program needs more churches and public places willing to open a few nights a week. The program is also seeking volunteers from the community who would like to help with meals, be overnight chaperones, and other volunteer jobs.

Donations of warm clothes, personal hygiene items, and financial support are also welcome.

Email for more information about volunteering or donating.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

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