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Prado Day Center provides temporary refuge from winter storms

Greta Mart
The Prado Center, pictured here during a break between storms, provides daily hot breakfast, showers, laundry services, phone use, computer use and other services to clients.

January’s extreme rainfall — though a welcome blessing for many— posed a serious problem for San Luis Obispo county’s homeless community. 

57 people lined up outside the Prado Warming Center on a recent Sunday night to escape heavy downpours. Grace McIntosh with CAPSLO, a non-profit that provides county homeless services, says the rainy season is overextending the staff of the Prado Cente. She says the center has opened for overnight stays over 20 times this winter so far; last year, they were open 19 nights over the entire winter season.

“We’re short staffed. And they’re all in overtime. I know we need the rain, but come on already, give us a break," McIntosh said.

For all of San Luis Obispo County, there’s only one day center — the Prado Center and one overnight center — the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter. They’re about 3 miles apart. But when the weather gets really bad the Prado Center opens at night to those in need of a place to stay.

Hugh and his wife Grace, who asked KCBX not to use their last names, gave a tour of the day center. They live in a homeless encampment but last night, they slept here, on the floor.

According to CAPSLO, between 2500 and 4000 people in San Luis Obispo County don’t have a place to sleep at night. By comparison, the city of Seattle is over two times bigger in population than the entire county of San Luis Obispo. But according to a count conducted last January by Seattle’s Coalition on Homelessness, Seattle has only about 3,000 people who are homeless. 

Hugh says they’re making do. Despite camping outdoors every night, he and his wife are the backbone of Prado’s kitchen. They arrive at 7 a.m. to serve breakfast every morning. Yesterday, he made 130 pancakes.

“It’s been tight fit around here lately because we’ve had a lot of people come in. But no complaints, no hassles..I’m a firm believer that if you keep everyone full, it keeps everybody happy,” Hugh said as he gave a tour.

This sentiment echoes all around the Prado Center, which is doing what it can to make it work. The Center only has three full-time staffers during the day, and Jamison Remmers is one of them. He says working at the Day Center has given him a renewed sense of empathy.

“I thought I knew what it was like to be homeless, what kind of people were homeless but I honestly had no idea. First of all, it could happen to anybody. It’s not like there’s a certain person that it happens to,” Remmers said, adding that about 60 percent of those who come into the center are suffering from mental issues. He says support also comes from simple acts of kindness and friendship.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people and they feel less than human. They call people with jobs and a house “normies” and “redgies” and they got all these nicknames because they feel separate, which is, that’s wrong. You don’t have a house, that’s one thing, you’re not less of a person, less of a human being — it’s just heartbreaking," Remmers said.  "I know that if i miss my next check I would be on the streets too.”

Homeless Services Manager Shawn Ison says the Prado Center would be paralyzed without the help of its volunteers. Over half of their annual budget comes from donations. It’s what’s keeping them alive.

“It really is a community issue. It’s not just CAPSLO’s issue, or my issue, it’s our community. The majority of our clients have ties to this community, were raised here, I’m very grateful for the community support," Ison said.

Even with all of the support, Ison says dispelling the myth of homelessness is still a challenge.

“People see people signing aggressive panhandling downtown, and most of the time those aren’t even our clients. People in our program, we’re trying to really encourage them and be their support and cheerleaders to move forward and do address those core issues of homelessness. It's really important to keep these programs in place,” Ison said.

The center is expected to open its doors at night this coming week, when more rain is forecasted.