VISTA — While a number of Rep. Darrell Issa’s constituents were a couple of miles down at the Jim Porter Recreation Center waiting for him to appear on Tuesday night for a town hall meeting, the 49th District congressman was instead at the Solutions for Change homeless shelter talking with a handful of the program’s selected residents.
Earlier in the day, Issa (R-Calif.) did hold what’s been described as an impromptu town hall out front of his Vista office, where he spoke for a reported 90-minutes, addressing a number of issues ranging from healthcare reform to President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration.
At the heart of the evening discussion, where about 15 residents seated in chairs arranged in a circle, talked informally with Issa, was the loss of grant money the homeless program sustained due to new rules imposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the importance of having a safe and sober living arrangement and the lack of affordable living in the county.
When the Congressman, who is back in his district this week during the Congressional recess, asked what the residents would like to see changed in Washington, D.C., there was a palpable silence.
The majority of the residents at the meeting had gone through some sort of abuse — either domestic or drugs. And most had “comeback” stories that they told during the hour-long meeting.
One of those was John, 41, a resident of the program for the past 20 months.
He’d been in prison, has a family of five, and makes over the minimum wage, though he told Issa he wouldn’t be able to afford renting an apartment once out in the “real world.”
He said he was grateful for the Solutions for Change program and the low rent associated with it.
Each of the families in residence has the opportunity to stay for 1,000 days at their apartment complex, according to Chris Megison, founder of Solutions for Change.
It was early last year that Megison found out that their program would have to give a federal grant of $600,000 back after a rule change.
Because the program didn’t want to accept active drug users on the property, Megison and Solutions for Change returned the grant in $100,000 increments.
Giving that money back, however, forced the closure of one of their longest standing programs — the family shelter, which now sits empty, he said.
To date, the program has about 300 families on the waiting list to move into the residency.
“It’s so many families compared to what we’ve ever seen before,” Megison said.
“I want to get the rule changed,” said Issa, who recommended the residents form a group to write letters and lobby the HUD secretary.
“We don’t do earmarks,” said Issa. “We haven’t in a lot of years, but this is a group (Solutions for Change) that has earned grants many, many times. And so when they actually give back money from a grant because they refuse to deal with a rule that would’ve been detrimental to this community, I want to get the rule rolled, I want to get the rule rolled back. back. And then the grant should be considered in ordinary course.”
Issa said he was supportive of programs to get people that are addicted to drugs or alcohol dry, adding that the program here is an environment where children are.
“Many of these people got their children back as part of a reward for getting sober. And you can’t mix those two,” said Issa.
To get the rule rolled back would be “huge,” Megison said. “But not just for the $600,000, because that frankly would help us, but it’s really about going forward. And we’re building…in Escondido, Oceanside and Carlsbad right now.”
Having gone from helping 130 families per day to 240 families, and undergoing significant expansion, Megison said the money becomes even more important.
“The federal government is a partner with Solutions, so it should remain that way if the funds are getting good results,” he said.
Megison said that with the success of its program, Solutions for Change has saved taxpayers $49 million since they’ve opened back in 2000 by taking people off of welfare and food stamps.
“The human impact is huge,” Megison added. “Because we’re talking 840 families and 2,400 kids in 17 years, who came here homeless, dependent, stuck, and are now employed, housed, healthy, (and) back in the community.”
Riverside County has asked to have the program transplanted up there, as well as in El Cajon, with proposals in the works to replicate what’s being done here, according to Megison.
“We call them ‘Solutionized-warriors,’” Megison said of the residents living at the Solutions for Change complex. “They have a deep passion to carve out a new life for their kids.”