Over the Hill

Creating Paso Robles homeless campus is worthy cause

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

I hope you read the story about the vacant reform school on Airport Road in Paso Robles.

It was in The Tribune on May 13 (“SLO County mayors want to convert Paso youth camp to homeless center”). The mayors of the seven cities in San Luis Obispo County have proposed converting the vacant reform school into a campus for homeless people. It might help some homeless people make a transition to more stable lives.

A new name has also been suggested for the place: “Beyond Homelessness Campus.” This strikes me as a worthy cause.

The sign in front of the campus now says, “El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility.” Most of us Paso Robles old-timers usually just call it the Boys’ School. It closed in 2008.

But I’m probably the wrong person to have an opinion about homelessness. I’ve never been homeless in my life. However, I’d be very sad if any of my children or grandchildren ever became homeless.

My first home was my parents’ old farmhouse. We didn’t have running water until I was 10 years old. We had to carry water in a pail from the outdoor hand-pump a few yards from the kitchen door.

But it was my home, and I didn’t feel disadvantaged. Other kids in our one-room rural school didn’t have running water either. Nor did the school have running water.

Later in life, I got a job that paid just $250 per month. Mamie was pregnant, so we rented a converted storage shed for $55 per month. But it was our home, our address. Coming home evenings, I’d see our few Christmas lights through the window. I had a home.

In the Army, I slept on the ground and in tents, but I always knew I had a home back home. I can only try to imagine what it’s like to sleep in a tent with no “back home” anywhere.

I also admit I have very little firsthand acquaintance with homeless people. Oh, I have volunteered two or three times at a homeless shelter. And, as a reporter, I did a handful of interviews with homeless people. But I always had my own home to return to every evening.

I can only imagine what it’s like to have no home to come back to — to be homeless. Some people may believe they prefer being homeless, but I seriously doubt that it’s good for their children.

The Paso Robles School for Boys opened in 1947. It has 40 buildings on 160 acres across the road from the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. Unfortunately, that location is one of the site’s drawbacks. It is somewhat remote: 4.7 miles from downtown Paso Robles and maybe 2 miles from the nearest food store. I can’t imagine many homeless people have cars.

But if that problem can be overcome, the former Boy’s School could be the place where homelessness is reduced.

Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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