Coming winter and lack of use prompts Paso Robles to close city's homeless campground

Oct 12, 2020

A camping site in Paso Robles that supplied tents, food and security for homeless individuals will be shutting down November 1, and city officials are working on finding a solution to house individuals ahead of the winter season.

In August, the city of Paso Robles opened Borkey Flats, a campsite to help relocate individuals living in the Salinas river bed. The site, costing $20,000 a month to operate, will now be dismantled ahead of the rainy season.

“Borkey flats was always intended to be a temporary emergency encampment,” said Julie Dahlen, Paso Robles’ community services director.

Dahlen said Borkey Flats is located on a flood plain, and the coming rainy season means the city has to find a safer alternative. She also said the site also wasn’t used as expected: out of the two hundred-plus homeless individuals in the Paso Robles, not many were taking advantage of the site. 

“In the largest attendance," Dahlen said. "We were maybe ten to 12 people a night.”

Dahlen said the city is now working with nonprofits ECHO and Paso Cares to find space for an indoor emergency shelter.

“Paso Robles definitely has a significant challenge ahead," Dahlen said. "It’s going to take the entire community and north county region to tackle this problem.”

Wendy Lewis, ECHO Homeless Shelter president, said original plans to build a long term shelter on Sulphur Springs Road was recently nixed.

“Due to a Caltrans need for an underpass, the cost kind of went out of the scope," Lewis said. "We thought we were really close and then that happened, then COVID hit and then unfortunately, the city had to— because of budget cuts—step back at that point.”

Lewis said the organization is working hard trying to find another space.

“The toughest piece of our work is finding a location that fits all the different pieces, in order to provide either an emergency shelter or either a long term permanent shelter," Lewis said. 

On October 6, the Paso Robles city council also tightened an ordinance to discourage people from living in the river bed, given the risk of wildfires and swift water rescues that have occured.

At the meeting, Daniel Manahan, who currently lives in the riverbed, said he felt like the homeless are constantly being treated as a nuisance.

“There’s nobody down here who isn’t trying to get their life on track," Manahan said. "And yet we are considered a thorn in the side. I don’t understand.”

Paso Robles officials say they are working to help find a solution before the winter season.