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"A consistent pledge": 40 Prado Homeless Services Center says it urgently needs volunteers

Unhoused community members shelter at 40 Prado during a winter rain storm
Rachel Showalter
Unhoused community members shelter at 40 Prado during a winter storm in 2021.

40 Prado Homeless Services Center in San Luis Obispo has an urgent need for volunteers after January’s storms, ongoing cold weather and COVID outbreaks have added to their already-high demand.

On the day of an active COVID outbreak in January, 40 Prado's Homeless Services Director Jack Lahey said the virus is an ongoing threat that is still straining their resources.

"We can't continue to do program intakes while we have active COVID in here. It's just a lot," he said.

Without enough volunteers to help with things like giving out mail, checking people in and serving meals, a lot of those tasks fall to staff.

“Cecil Hale, our manager, he is tireless. He would have been here, but he actually worked last night, the full night shift. He's coming back at midnight tonight to work the overnight shift. We've got staff who are doing this every day, contorting their schedules making sure that we can continue operations," he said.

Lahey said that workload limits the amount of work he and his staff can do to help unhoused people get into permanent housing. If licensed social workers are folding linens, that’s time they’re not able to spend cultivating the relationships he described as essential to 40 Prado’s work.

“Figuring out how we can get somebody from, 'Hey, I need shelter for the night' to, 'I'm moving in tomorrow to an apartment.' That's where the staff can use their skills and their expertise and do all the non-violent de-escalation, and manage crises all the time in the shelter. It's those other components that volunteers really could and should be doing," he said.

Local residents receiving free vision care.
Gabriela Fernandez
Unhoused residents receiving free vision care at 40 Prado.

Lahey said while the recent storms and ongoing COVID outbreaks are further adding to demand right now, 40 Prado doesn’t just need volunteers to help out in the short-term. He said getting one volunteer for one hour every week can make a huge difference.

"God, I sound like a PBS pledge," he joked. "A consistent pledge, [so] if you're going to come in and help do linens and you can commit to every Friday for an hour, that allows us to plan around that volunteer activity so we can really make it the most effective as possible," he said.

“Because if I know a volunteer is coming in that day, we don't have to have a staff person do that activity. And they can focus on something else that can actually kind of get them back to working one-on-one with folks to get their documents in order to get people housed.”

Lahey said some of that work may seem mundane, but it’s essential. And it’s not just those day-to-day tasks that the center urgently needs. He said here’s plenty of other ways people can volunteer their time that are more personalized.

"Maybe somebody wants to come in and read the paper and say 'Hey, let's talk about an issue that's in the paper today,' and people can come and talk and just be people. I know that one volunteer wanted to come in and do like a sports talk kind of thing. That can really happen if we have volunteers helping out with other components too," Lahey said.

Lahey said ideally, he would love to have 40 Prado overflowing with volunteers.

"I'd rather be in a situation where I'm having to say, we have too many volunteers and let's figure out how they could help out with other nonprofits.”

40 Prado is run through the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, or CAPSLO. Anyone interested in volunteering can visit their website at capslo.organd click the volunteer tab.

Potential volunteers can also call (805) 534-3668 or email volunteer@capslo.org.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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