Crafting North County: Solving Homelessness: Part I

I’ve decided to write a new series of columns confronting North County’s homelessness issue, and I hope you’ll join me in exploring the challenges and opportunities we have to end this epidemic in our community.

My knowledge of homelessness comes mostly from living in places with some of the nation’s largest homeless populations for eight years — San Francisco and San Diego’s East Village neighborhood.

Encounters were part of everyday life. I’ve witnessed tragic incidents that were preventable, and worried about the safety of my loved ones. I’ve seen faces far younger than mine on the streets, and families that deserved a better life. With age, I’ve come to respect the complexities of solving homelessness, and have earned a growing desire to restore human dignity.

I’ve also followed the policies and politics that have too often failed to provide long-term, comprehensive solutions.

Every community has its roadblocks. San Francisco’s mayor struggled to gain the support of the Board of Supervisors for a modest “sit-lie” law prohibiting sitting or lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and resorted to taking his proposal to the ballot for a public vote. Meanwhile, only until recently did the city of San Diego muster the political courage to agree to fund a permanent homeless shelter, after years of political tip-toeing with temporary winter shelters in East Village and Barrio Logan.

I never thought that after moving to Carlsbad last year, I’d still see so many homeless on the streets, in parking lots and grocery stores. It’s a reality I thought I had largely left behind in East Village. There, I knew what was being done to confront the issue, and who was leading that charge. Here in North County, I am only left with growing questions.

Where can the homeless turn to for food, shelter, or social assistance? What are elected officials doing to help make a difference in people’s lives? Do cities here differ in their approach to dealing with homelessness? Who are the unsung everyday heroes that meet the needs of the homeless population in our part of the region?  Most importantly, what is the broader vision and plan to ending homelessness in North County?

Some of the workload addressing the issue in North County is falling to those who have broader public obligations. Caltrans announced this month that it was clearing out four homeless encampments along Interstate 5 in Oceanside, Carlsbad and Del Mar.  Speaking with Caltrans Public Relations Officer Ed Cartagena, I learned that while North County highway encampments are generally smaller and less elaborate than those found in the San Diego metro area, public calls to remove them have been increasing in our area. Cartagena estimates there are 200 encampments in North County.

Caltrans’ maintenance crews can only do so much — 400 maintenance workers are responsible for hundreds of different tasks, and are assigned to projects across 4,000 acres of right of way in San Diego and Imperial counties. State resources and manpower can only be stretched so far.

It’s up to us to find the real solutions that will end homelessness in North County, and commit to the hard work to get it done.

Vince Vasquez is a policy analyst at an economic think tank based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.

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