'Warming centers' open for transient population seeking shelter - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

'Warming centers' open for transient population seeking shelter from cold

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With frigid overnight temperatures in the North County, the transient population has to find a way to stay warm each and every night.

A sleeping bag doesn't always cut it, but it's a reality that many have to face.

"It gets really cold. You learn to sleep with your shoes on because if you take your shoes off, in the morning they're shoe-cicles. You can't get them on and it's like walking on ice cubes," said David Williamson, who has been homeless since January. "You learn to sleep with shoes on put on a bunch of layers, zip yourself in a sleeping bag and use your breath to keep you warm."

The El Camino Homeless Organization- or ECHO- provides hot meals, showers, and shelter in Atascadero.

"Echo shelter is a lifeline for a lot of people," said Neil O'Donnell, who has been transient for two years.

The shelter can only take in about 50 people, and clients have to go through an application process for a warm bed.

"We're pretty much full now that the winter has kicked in. A lot of families have come in," said Delaila Vallejo, ECHO's volunteer coordinator.

Warming centers can help fill that gap. They do not require an application and there is plenty more room for sleeping bags.

The warming center inside Saint Williams Church only opens when it's under 40 degrees outside or raining, which goes a long way for those with no other options.

"When it rains, you're forced to go underneath the bridges where its dirty and gross. Or you're forced to go to businesses, underneath their awnings, which puts you at risk for getting arrested for illegal camping," said Williamson.

Volunteers at the warming center say last winter they had around 20 people seek shelter on any given night, and they expect numbers to rise this season.

About 90 percent of food, sleeping bags and winter clothes that are handed out are donations. ECHO hands out about ten sleeping bags a night, so donations are always welcome and needed.

ECHO managers say each shelter runs on volunteers, and can always use a helping hand.

If you're interested in donating or volunteering, you can visit the ECHO website.

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