By Sharon Burns
EL CENTRO — The “grand opening” is still months away, but Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego’s new day center is already serving homeless men and women in this city.
The day center had a soft launch on Feb. 15 and, six days later, Catholic Charities CEO Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor and others from the diocese traveled from San Diego to tour the facility.
Catholic Charities broke ground on the day center on Aug. 30, 2021, but its opening was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply-chain issues.
The organization has operated homeless shelters in Imperial County for decades, said Pajanor, who became aware in recent years of the “the lack of a day center for the unsheltered or unhoused, for both men and women.” He explained that homeless individuals sometimes “are not ready to move from being unsheltered to being sheltered in permanent housing.”
“We welcome people as they are,” he said. “The day center is a place where they can come and see what Catholic Charities has to offer. This is open to all, just like being Catholic means being universal, the day center will also be universal.”
The 4,997-square-foot modular building is located just behind Catholic Charities’ offices at 250 W. Orange Ave. It is now open seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Within its first week, it had already served 24 homeless individuals.
The center is the first of its kind in the county. At the day center, homeless individuals can eat, do laundry, take a shower, use the restroom, and receive wraparound services. These include case management, through which referrals are given to address specific needs, such as mental health, assistance in finding a job, substance-abuse services and disability benefits.
Pajanor calls the day center a “one-stop shop” and a respite from the heat or cold. He said it will “create a relationship, (get) a conversation going, that allows (people) to think about what they can do to get away from the streets.”
When someone enters the building, he said, there is an intake desk for them to sign in and record what services they need, giving Catholic Charities a “snapshot” of what they are looking for. As an example, Pajanor said, a client might need a driver’s license or training for a particular field.
The day center building was made possible through a partnership with Imperial County and funding from a $5-million Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) grant, Pajanor said. Funds also came from Imperial County and the City of El Centro.
However, there are financial gaps that still need to be filled, he said. Both volunteers and donations, including clothing and food that is reaching its “best by” date, are welcome.
“We are trying to leverage all the time and talent … from the good souls here in Imperial County,” Pajanor said.
More information about the day center is available by phoning (619) 323-2841.