ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Warming Center, the only warming shelter in the North County, started its humanitarian operations on Nov. 1 and will run until April 15. This year the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer located at 4500 El Camino Real opened its doors to accommodate AWC’s operations for the full five months. The church has the ability to take in 46 people, almost doubling what the shelter could handle in previous years.
AWC is not affiliated with the El Camino Homeless Organization though the two work together to help the displaced. Operating under the umbrella of the Transitional Food and Shelter nonprofit, AWC feeds and houses people on nights that reach 40 degrees or below or if there is a 50 percent chance of rain.
“We are the step before ECHO,” AWC Operations Manager Susan Macari said, “to get into ECHO you have to be clean and sober.” Macari said that many of these people battle addiction, PTSD, mental illness and trauma and behind anyone’s challenge there is a story. “It’s so easy to judge and so many people do, but we don’t judge.”
Susan said there are many people who find themselves homeless at no fault of their own. She told a story of last year a family with six children found themselves on the street. While they were looking for housing, the father worked three jobs and all six children continued to stay on their school’s honor roll.
“They had been sheltering for a year and yet those kids were still honor students,” Macari said.
Currently, AWC is the only low barrier/behavioral-based shelter for individuals and families. Paso Cares, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting those in need, recently announced it will not be operating a warming center this year.
To know when the shelter will open, Macari recommends people to dial 211, the community services hotline, where a call specialist will answer questions about the services available in San Luis Obispo County. People can also text their current zip code to 898-211 to correspond with a call specialist via text or visit 211.org.
First and foremost, Macari said that the center is hard pressed for chaperones. Shifts run from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. to help with duties and supervise people seeking shelter. The center holds training seminars to help newcomers. She said there is also an overnight shift from 12:30 to 5:30 a.m., but an onsite couple generally takes it because it is difficult to find coverage for it.
“We need chaperones desperately, we can’t do it without chaperones because we need a certain amount of people supervising throughout the night,” Macari said.
She said the shelter accepts donations of food, clothing and money. All donations are tax-deductible and donors can tell the organization where they want their money spent by writing a note in the memo section of their check. The AWC also accepts items like gift cards from dollar stores that they will distribute as Christmas gifts. Bus passes are also welcome. One of the challenges the organization is facing is the ability to move people to and from the facility, especially those who are disabled.
TFS also supports the Medically Fragile Homeless program that provides housing for individuals “who are referred by an agency, organization or hospital with a medically verified need for non-congregate 24/7, temporary housing” with a primary goal for recovery without the person returning to the hospital. According to the TFS website, MFH also provides shelter to people who have need of housing to enter a hospice care program where the goal for the person is to die in the dignity of housing with the care of hospice.
To register as a chaperone, visit signupgenius.com, enter “email@example.com” into the search option and select “Chaperone Volunteer” to look for available dates to volunteer.
Checks can be mailed to Transitional Food and Shelter, 7343 El Camino Real No. 346, Atascadero, CA 93422.
For more information on ways to help or donate, visit nowheretogo.com.