Northbound: Progress on addressing homelessness

Homelessness in North County has been on my mind lately.

In the last week and a half, I’ve experienced a few “firsts” in Carlsbad. In the same morning, I saw someone sleeping on a public bench in Carlsbad Village, and another individual, who is a known transient, having a psychotic episode at the train station, screaming obscenities at passersby. Later that evening, I was panhandled outside my grocery store. All in Carlsbad.

Sadly, I experienced incidents like this all too often in my years living in downtown San Diego, but never in North County. Perhaps the mere mentioning of these incidents is embarrassing for some folks in town, but I’d rather spend my time in the community building public awareness and urgency to grapple with the challenges we have, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not.

To be sure, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest we’re making progress on addressing homelessness here in North County. Recently, I saw a news segment on a “Community Forum on Homelessness” in Oceanside, hosted by the Oceanside Charitable Foundation, which drew a standing-room crowd. One of the forum panelists answering questions from the public was Greg Anglea, executive director of Interfaith Community Services. I’ve interviewed him before for prior columns on homelessness, as his agency is the largest provider of homeless services in our part of the region.

Interested in catching up with Anglea, I gave him a call to check in on the latest developments in serving our at-need community members.

“Homelessness is a broad and complicated problem,” remarked Anglea, who pointed me to a number of efforts underway here to address the issue. Earlier in mid-February, the Carlsbad City Council approved a $4.25 million construction loan to build a new 50-unit housing project for homeless veterans and their dependents in the Barrio neighborhood (the 2016 annual homeless count identified 1,157 homeless veterans in the county). Interfaith Community Services is also currently looking for a site in North County to host a new Recovery and Wellness Center, to provide assistance for those struggling with addiction with recovery and recuperative care, reducing public costs for incarceration and hospitalization. Anglea says the Center, which may range from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet, would ideally have 75 beds, and once built, would be the first of its kind in the region.

As homeless programs and shelters require sobriety upon entry, substance abuse prevents many homeless residents from receiving shelter or other services they need.

For all the steps in the right direction, to task before us, as a community, is daunting. Anglea mentioned that data on the region’s homeless population has improved, and we know now that more than 17,000 individuals accessed homeless services in 2016 from more than 200 service providers in San Diego County. Of those 17,000-plus individuals, about 10,000 were homeless for the first time.

Carlsbad doesn’t have the large homeless population Oceanside does, nor the population spike which probably necessitated Oceanside’s town hall forum, but we nonetheless have a vulnerable population that needs our attention and our support to get on the road to permanent housing. Perhaps it’s time for Carlsbad to host a town hall on homelessness this year — what do you think? It’s got my vote, and I’d definitely attend.

Vince Vasquez is an economist based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.

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