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Amid strife, Atascadero approves ECHO as its official homeless shelter 

After almost three hours of public comment, the Atascadero City Council voted 3-1 to name the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) as the city’s official homeless shelter during its Sept. 24 meeting.

The council voted to allow the meal program and shelter—which provides dinners for 60 to 70 people and beds for roughly 35—to operate under a conditional use permit with the city. The permit, which will be hammered out in the coming months, will codify operating rules for ECHO and also establish penalties for violations of those rules.

Councilman Bob Kelley was the dissenting vote, and Mayor Pro Tem Brian Sturtevant was absent. Kelley was alone on the council in supporting an option that would have imposed fewer restrictions on the shelter.

The nonprofit shelter has operated since 2001, but a recently adopted state law requires California cities to name one site as their official homeless shelter. ECHO is the North County’s only homeless shelter.

Many of the public commenters were ECHO supporters or volunteers, but some speakers were concerned residents of the neighborhood adjoining ECHO.

“The ECHO people didn’t want any rules imposed on them at all, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute,’” said Jay DeCou, an Atascadero resident whose property adjoins to ECHO. “At least with [the permit] in place we have some kind of course of action for sorting out problems.”

DeCou told New Times that he has dealt with “transients” in his neighborhood for a while now and said that, while he supports the mission of ECHO, he wishes the shelter-dwellers were more respectful of his neighborhood and property.

“It’s about a third mentally ill people, a third substance abusers, and a third who are just down on their luck,” DeCou said. “ECHO kicks out the ones they don’t want, but then they’re in my backyard!”

In response to testimony from DeCou and some of his neighbors, the council’s decision required ECHO to build a wall to replace a chain-link fence that’s currently the only barrier between the shelter and the neighborhood.

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