Volunteers Lend a Green Thumb at California Homeless Shelter

After nearly two years of design and planning, landscaping efforts at North County’s homeless shelter finally took root last Saturday in Atascadero.

Armed with the tools of the trade, including shovels, picks, and wheelbarrows, more than 40 volunteers from Madrone Landscapes and Cal Poly planted over 200 trees, shrubs, and ground covers at the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO).

Serving the north San Luis Obispo County community, ECHO is a 50-bed homeless shelter. “We have accomplished some major renovations at the shelter over the last few years and this landscaping is a part of that effort,” said Jim Patterson, ECHO board president. “We especially appreciate Rick Mathews at Madrone Landscapes and Cal Poly Professor Christy O’Hara for helping make this happen.”

A few years ago, Professor O’Hara was in search of a project that would benefit the community — and ECHO was the perfect fit. “The students spent many hours studying the micro-climate surrounding the shelter to make smart planting choices that included many native varieties,” said O’Hara. “The students also felt strongly about creating an area with lots of shade trees that would be a quiet and peaceful place for people who come to ECHO.”

However, the landscape design wasn’t purely for aesthetic purposes. A fruit orchard and vegetable garden were also incorporated into the design. “With this much land in the plan, and it’s a homeless shelter that also provides food, it just made sense to include a fruit orchard and gardening beds,” O’Hara explained.

After the Cal Poly design plan was approved by ECHO’s board of directors, Madrone Landscapes offered to lend a hand. “A design plan this large has an extensive irrigation system,” Patterson explained. “Madrone employees donated their time to dig all the trenches and install the system. Much of the irrigation material was donated or discounted by Farm Supply Company. It was a big job and we’re very thankful.”

Madrone Landscapes, and other local businesses in the area including Bay Laurel Nursery, West Covina Wholesale Nursery, Native Sons Wholesale Nursery, and Growing Grounds Farms pitched in by donating more than half of the 200+ plants used in the landscape design.

“As this story articulates, landscaping can have a positive impact,” says Matt Johnson, Johnson’s Landscaping Service, Inc. “For example, in 2014, we built a pergola outside Christ House in Washington, DC. Christ House is a non-profit medical shelter serving the homeless. In the past, during the summer heat, patients would need to wait under a portable shade tent. Now, they can wait under a well built and good looking pergola, adding much needed shade, a touch of class, and a more peaceful setting.”

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