Perched on the Pacific Ocean on California’s Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County ranks among the least affordable housing markets in the country. footnote1 Homelessness is a persistent problem in this popular tourist region. When the pandemic struck the area’s tourism industry and local vineyards, the county’s Hispanic-Latino community was hit hard. “We’ve seen a marked increase in Latino families and children and vulnerable seniors seeking our help during the coronavirus crisis,” says Wendy Lewis, president and CEO of the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), which operates two shelters in the county.
To meet the acute housing needs of the county’s Hispanic-Latino community, in 2020 ECHO launched En Camino a Mi Casa. Employing a team of multicultural, bilingual staff members, the program provides culturally sensitive services in Spanish. “People in crisis need to hear a familiar language to build trust with staff so that they can take the necessary steps to obtain permanent housing, which is the goal for all our residents,” says Lewis.
While staying at a shelter, En Camino a Mi Casa residents can take advantage of ECHO’s 90-day intervention program, which provides not only a consistent place to return to every night but also a full slate of enrichments, from job training and resume writing to budgeting and nutrition education. Children receive tutoring so they can succeed at school, and staff members connect residents with community resources to help secure housing. ECHO’S goal is for at least 60% of En Camino a Mi Casa’s 90-day residents to find stable housing.
These kinds of wraparound services can make all the difference. A Hispanic-Latino couple who both lost restaurant jobs found new positions through ECHO’s network of employers, Lewis says. When a grandmother raising her nine-year-old granddaughter lost the family’s housing during the pandemic, the En Camino a Mi Casa program helped the girl stay in school while the grandmother looked for an apartment. “They are both thriving now because we were able to give them a safe space to land during some tough times,” says Lewis.
The support for the El Camino Homeless Organization is an example of Bank of America’s commitment to help advance racial equality and economic opportunity in local neighborhoods around the country. From entrepreneur funding and expanding home ownership to professional skills training and healthcare access, Bank of America continues to partner with innovative leaders to help communities implement solutions to society’s biggest challenges. “Bank of America’s funding allowed us to build capacity and grow our mission to serve a diverse community that needs our help more than ever,” says Lewis.