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Atascadero recommits $355,000 to drug and homeless services 

The North County’s only programs aimed at helping recovering drug addicts and destitute men, women, and children are in trouble. The buildings that house the El Camino Homeless Shelter (ECHO) and North County Connection (NCC) are being sold, but the programs can breathe a little easier knowing that they have financial support from the City of Atascadero.

- BREATHE EASY :  After years of financial duress, North County Connection should be able to keep its program running with some financial help from the city of Atascadero. Director Sue Warren, pictured here, told City Council members the money will provide stability to the program. -  - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • BREATHE EASY : After years of financial duress, North County Connection should be able to keep its program running with some financial help from the city of Atascadero. Director Sue Warren, pictured here, told City Council members the money will provide stability to the program.

Both programs may be able to buy the properties they currently rent. The City Council decided March 29 to allocate $100,000 to NCC and to create a reserve of $255,000 for ECHO to claim in six months, after board members have been able to develop a specific plan to buy First Baptist Church (where the shelter now operates) and neighboring Atascadero Bible Church. The second acquisition will allow ECHO to offer transitional, affordable housing, which is required in order for the program to receive city funds. The NCC property includes one residential unit that will be reserved for a low-income renter, likely someone who works for the program.

In October 2011, council members approved funding for NCC, ECHO, and three other affordable housing projects, but the bulk of the money came from the city’s Redevelopment Agency, a state program that has since been terminated. The remaining money for NCC and ECHO came from fees developers pay “in lieu” of building new affordable housing units with their projects. There were $437,000 in the in- lieu fund.

“Do you still want to move ahead now that this is our only discretionary fund?” Community Services Director Warren Frace asked at the council meeting March 27.

Indeed, they did. Frace suggested that the city set aside $100,000 to cover six years of staff costs associated with processing low-income loans, give $100,000 to NCC, and save the remaining $237,000. That motion failed, but only because Mayor Bob Kelley and Mayor Pro Tem Tom O’Malley wanted to give ECHO more.

“I’d be willing to see us suffer a bit at the city if we need to,” Kelley said. “[I’d] feel a lot more comfortable going to sleep at night knowing we’re feeding people.”

Council members later agreed to give ECHO an extra $16,000. Councilman Jerry Clay recused himself from the vote, since he has a financial interest in one of the properties.

Sue Warren spoke on behalf of NCC and thanked the council for its support.

“Now we can provide more opportunities in the community and don’t have to worry about where we’re going to be,” Warren said. ∆

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