When I saw a post on Facebook by a Tesla owner who is a CEO of a homeless shelter called Echo, it moved me. I’ve been homeless before — my mother had issues with what is called chronic homelessness. It was something I experienced all throughout my childhood and the nonprofit I started in 2009 was about helping that community. Although it failed, I learned a lot about myself and know that during the time we were active, we made a difference.
Whether or not one chooses to start a nonprofit or support one, both make an impact. Fewer of us do the former, but this is what Wendy Lewis, CEO of El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), has done.
In 2018, according to EndHomeless.org:
- 552,830 people were homeless in America.
- That’s 17 out of 10,000 people in the United States.
- Many people are individuals — single with no kids or family that are homeless with them.
- 33% are families with children.
- 7% of the total homeless population are youth under the age of 25 who live without parents or children.
- 7% are veterans who served this country.
- 18% are chronically homeless — people who have disabilities and have been homeless for an extended period of time or repeatedly.
- The average age of a homeless person is 9 years old.
Q&A With Wendy Lewis, CEO of ECHO.
Wendy owns a blue Tesla Model 3 named Dodger and has been in the Tesla family for about a month. She loves not having to pay $4 for gas. She chose to buy a Tesla because she wanted to help the environment and her checkbook. Wendy is “old school and still has a checkbook.”
The post I mentioned earlier was one by Wendy on Facebook asking the Tesla community for help. ECHO is a nonprofit organization and it is among a few who are competing for a $100,000 prize by Verdin Marketing’s Night of the 24-Hour Give. It’s a special “zombie-ified” event that helps give back to the community. They have teamed up with other local businesses to give away $100,000 to a lucky nonprofit.
What Wendy needed help with was voting. You can vote daily until October 28th. It’s free and only requires an email to vote.
How did you get involved with Echo Homeless Shelter?
ECHO had a funder a large donation to help it grow from a grassroots non-profit run by volunteers to a staff run shelter with increased capacity. I was asked to come in about 1 1/2 ago and help us do that. I was the COO of the Food Bank in our area and had grown its capacity and the ECHO Board wanted me to do the same for ECHO. Since starting we have been able to transition in a 24-hour shelter, grow from 50 to 60 beds and increase our programming. We now offer over 10 programs for the adults and children we serve. Here’s a link to our website so you can pull info from there.
Did you start it or were you hired in?
I wasn’t the founder it was founded by a group of volunteers 18 years ago because they saw a need and there weren’t any shelter beds at that time. Back then they were serving mostly men but over the years the face of homelessness has changed drastically and now we serve men. women, children, seniors, and veterans.
How long had Echo been around and what do you see Echo doing in the next 5 years?
ECHO has been serving people facing hunger and homelessness for 18 years. We not only provide a safe home for 60 people each night we also have a meal program that feeds anyone who’s hungry each night and a shower program that provides showers, clothing, sleeping bags and other essentials to people who aren’t staying with us. The need is just too big and we are almost always full. Because of that, we have partnered with a nearby City Paso Robles to open a second shelter. It will be open in June of 2021. In the next 5 years, we have plans on growing our capacity to try and serve even more through the new shelter and by adding a Staffing Program and with a new kitchen offer a restaurant industry training program. Employment is key in the success of helping get someone housed.
What are some stats that you can provide? For example, how many families served in 2018?
In 2018 ECHO provided the community over 54,000 nutritious meals, 5,000 showers, almost 20,000 safe nights for someone to sleep and our smallest number is what we are most proud of 112 people found permanent housing and graduated our program. Over 60% of people who stayed with us found housing which far exceeds the industry standard. In homeless services, if you reach 10% people housed it’s considered good that’s why I say something magical is happening at ECHO. People ask what’s the difference and how are we accomplishing this and I say it’s because we don’t treat our faculty as if it were a shelter we consider it a giant home for 60 people and create a homelike environment where we show compassion and care for all we serve.
What are some challenges that ECHO faces today and how can technology assist in meeting those challenges?
Funding and getting our message out are always challenges we face. Our primary source of funds is private donations and as we grow and increase our capacity there is a need to grow our donors. Technology is critical in reaching new people and especially in the new era of gifting through social channels and online platforms.
What are some ways that the cleantech industry could help bring about innovative solutions to homelessness?
Homelessness is now affecting every community and will take all sectors to solve (government, private and non-profits). The cleantech community could mandate with each car sold a percentage goes to their community to aid and help the most vulnerable.
CleanTech Solutions To Homelessness
Many may not ever think that cleantech could help those affected by homelessness. However, the U.S. Department of Energy published an article in 2010 about how solar hot water helped homeless shelters save on funds. In Arizona, a homeless shelter called House of Refuge Sunnyslope received $50,000 to complete its solar hot water systems project.
A tiny house village for the homeless based in Oregon also uses solar power. It’s called Opportunity Village and it helps homeless people with life’s necessities — shelter is the main one. Now, thanks to solar systems that were provided by Sunjack, they have power.
The first time I was homeless, I was 9. Things happen to people that sometimes land them without a home. Ending homelessness has been a goal of many nonprofits and government agencies, but you can’t just do one thing and end it. As technology evolves and we as a nation start to embrace cleaner ways to use it, perhaps this industry can help our most vulnerable communities in a way that hasn’t been done before.
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