El Camino Homeless Organization, an all-volunteer nonprofit in Atascadero, has received unanimous assurances from the Atascadero City Council during a council meeting March 27 that the nonprofit would receive $255,000 from the city’s in-lieu fees toward ECHO’s ongoing efforts to acquire land and provide a permanent shelter for North County homeless. The council also promised to revisit the possibility of contributing an additional $45,000 in six months toward the effort to secure a permanent homeless facility.
Mayor Bob Kelly and fellow city council members commended ECHO for providing ongoing shelter and food for the homeless in North County and doing it in the most cost-effective way possible.
Councilman Tom O’Malley said ECHO provides the lowest cost per unit of any homeless shelter nationwide by housing a homeless person at a cost of $5.14 per night; he noted that such an extraordinary accomplishment is made possible due to ECHO’s steadfast support from community volunteers. He said financial support for ECHO has a “multiplier effect” in that it helps reduce city costs for police services and other services while also improving overall services for the homeless—an important priority for the city. O’Malley also expressed a desire to stand behind ECHO with a significant financial commitment of in-lieu funds to help ensure ample progress in the next six months toward ECHO’s goal of a permanent homeless shelter in the community.
Kelly agreed, stating, “Nothing comes even close to what ECHO provides… One hundred-percent of ECHO’s funding goes to feeding and housing the homeless. I know that I can sleep more soundly knowing that the homeless in our community are being taken care of properly. We need to be compassionate because there are a lot of people who have experienced hard luck and ECHO is there to help.”
ECHO has served hot meals and operated a homeless shelter housed at First Baptist Church, located at 6370 Atascadero Mall, since 2006. The city council was responding to a funding request from Gail Foos, treasurer and grant administrator for ECHO, on behalf of the nonprofit. The ECHO Acquisitions Committee is currently reviewing options regarding the purchase of the First Baptist Church property as well as an adjacent property, which is owned by Atascadero Bible Church and includes eight affordable housing units. According to Foos, both church entities appear amenable to the purchase of the properties by ECHO for the purpose of constructing a permanent homeless shelter and retaining the affordable housing units.
Foos said ECHO was informed six months ago that it would have to vacate its current location at First Baptist; since that time, Atascadero city staff and ECHO board members have been meeting regularly to discuss future options toward acquiring land and building a permanent homeless shelter, partially funded by the city’s designated in-lieu fees and the remainder from ECHO’s fundraising campaign and its ongoing grant-writing efforts.
Foos said the process has been further complicated in the wake of a recent ruling by the California Supreme Court regarding redevelopment funds and, as a result, ECHO was now seeking funding from the city’s in-lieu fees, which are designated specifically for low-income housing and housing for the homeless.
“The process has been exciting, challenging and frustrating all at once,” she said.
Foos said ECHO senior leadership has formulated a three-phase strategy to make the dream of a permanent homeless shelter a reality. The first phase would likely include the down payment of half the purchase price for the First Baptist property, which would come from the ECHO reserve fund and its capital campaign, followed by a proposed note for the other half of the property’s purchase price, negotiated with First Baptist and paid in full in five years.
The second phase would include the purchase of the adjacent property, owned by Atascadero Bible Church, which would include considerations regarding the federal Housing and Urban Development focusing on rapid re-housing, the homeless shelter and affordable housing. Any funds designated by the city from its in-lieu fees, Foos said, would be used toward affordable housing units on the property adjacent to First Baptist Church.
“It will allow us to grow our campus and become a hub for homeless and at-risk people in North County,” Foos said. “It could be part of the 10-year county plan to end homelessness and it would certainly be a move in that direction.”
If the purchase is successfully negotiated with Atascadero Bible Church to purchase the property, ECHO will purchase the entire property and assume the existing note to purchase the property in slightly less than 10 years, Foos explained.
The third phase would include a renovation of the First Baptist property in order to more efficiently provide expanded social services for homeless and at-risk people in North County that would also be centrally located within the county, Foos said.
Foos said ECHO will submit its formal business plan in June and plans to launch its fundraising campaign in late summer, followed by implementation of the first two phases of the project and the third-phase renovation of the First Baptist property projected for December 2012 or January 2013.
“Our goal is to help those who are at-risk and homeless to maintain and sustain their independence and move into housing,” Foos said. “ECHO has been doing this for 10 years and, during that time, it has earned a good reputation with the homeless and the community. We have proven that we are capable of making this happen. We have very dedicated people who can make it work and community support and city council support that puts us in a strong position.”
For more information or to make a contribution, visit the Web site at www.ECHOshelter.net, call (805)462-3363, or mail donations to El Camino Homeless Organization, P.O. Box 2077, Atascadero, CA 93423. Volunteer overnight chaperones are also needed.