Sharon Schultz and her son used to live in her car in Paso Robles.
“I was on the streets for 5 years, one month, 5 days,” she explained. “I have several medical problems and well, basically, we fell behind on our house payments.”
In mid-April of this year, Schultz landed a spot at an old Motel 6-turned-homeless shelter on Black Oak Drive.
“It’s safety and security and a lot, a lot of help,” she said. “I mean, these women here have helped me a lot.”
“This is their first step into housing,” said Wendy Lewis, El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) CEO.
ECHO runs the emergency shelter that houses people on a nightly basis. They also have a 90-day program with connections to resources like mental health support and job placement.
Work to get a homeless shelter in the City of Paso Robles has been years in the making.
A homeless shelter was once planned on Sulpher Springs Rd. but the need for a pedestrian path brought the project over budget, forcing the idea to be nixed.
This new indoor emergency shelter was paid for through the state’s Project Homekey, an initiative to get people off the streets, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just at our 6th-month mark, we've had 500 different men, women, and children stay with us right here in our new location,” Lewis said. “So far, we've helped 38 people find permanent housing.”
There’s also a long-term stay program through HASLO and People’s Self-Help Housing.
Sixty-two people are currently taking part in that program, including Schultz.
“Right now, I'm making small-term goals. I’m getting myself organized,” Schultz said.
Meanwhile, there are some limitations to this solution.
There are an estimated 250 to 500 people that are still unhoused in Paso Robles.
While some just don’t want the help…
“It's really finding out when somebody is ready,” Lewis said. “You might have hundreds of conversations and they're not ready for help.”
There’s also a lack of beds to get people the help they need.
“Here we have 42 beds with 60 places, eventually, so there's just a gap in our system with actual places for people to be,” Lewis said.
In Arizona, a Phoenix hotel-turned-homeless shelter is seeing success catering exclusively to senior citizens.
“We're very housing-focused,” said Derik Roof, Project Haven Manager. “Pretty much everyone we take into the shelter we want to have this. We're at like 70% positive housing outcome.”
Regardless of where the shelter is on the map, the goal remains the same.
“Right now, this is security,” Schultz said. “This is, like I said, a jumping-off point. I feel as soon as I get past, I start here, it might take me six months maybe a year to get going up higher and higher.”
ECHO says 84% of the people they serve are from Paso Robles. Quite a few of them were previously living in the riverbed.
The project received $14.8 million from Project Homekey that will be used until June of next year.