CARLSBAD — There is no quick and easy solution to solving the issue of homelessness.
However, more compassionate and personal approaches are in full swing throughout the region.
On Oct. 17, the city of Carlsbad adopted its Homeless Response Plan, which took two years to develop. The focus is to prevent and reduce homelessness; support and build capacity within the city to address the issue; encourage collaboration; and to retain, protect and increase the housing supply.
Since then, the city’s police department has installed a front-line team to make contact, establish rules and remind the homeless of the laws.
Additionally, encampments have been cleaned up, while Carlsbad police and the city are working with other nonprofits to establish a more streamlined approach, according to police Sgt. Bryan Hargett of the Homeless Outreach Team and Crime Suppression Team.
“We are trying to mitigate the negative effects of homelessness on the community,” Hargett said. “Most importantly, connect them with social workers, nonprofits and faith-based organizations.”
Hargett, along with fellow Carlsbad Police officers Ron DeMent and Andre Ramirez, have established trust with the homeless, while Marie Jones-Kirk, the city’s community services manager, has developed tools and partnerships to get those individuals the help they need and connect them to services and housing.
Since the range of reasons for homeless is vast, Jones-Kirk and Hargett said the city, along with other cities and the county, are taking a more personal approach.
As of April 2017, Carlsbad had 160 homeless people, up from 108 in 2016, according to the Point-In-Time Count from the county’s Regional Task Force. For other North County cities, Oceanside had 531, Vista 529, and Escondido 523 with and a total of 9,116 homeless in the county.
Total homelessness in the region has increased by 5 percent since 2016 and 3 percent compared to 2013. The numbers for 2018 have not been released, although the count has been conducted, Jones-Kirk said.
“We have to balance how we handle certain people and where we go,” Hargett said. “It’s important to build the relationships with the homeless community so they trust us and know us. And then they know we’re there to help and there are rules to follow. With those relationships, that becomes easier.”
Each day at least one representative from a nonprofit or the county rides along with Hargett and his team.
In addition, the team also provides flu and hep A shots, while the county’s In-Home Outreach Team provides emergency psychiatric care for the homeless. Hargett said his team, or their community partners, also helps with transportation for prescriptions, obtaining a driver’s license, social security cards and other basic needs.
“Them trusting us to bring another person into their world makes it easier for us,” Hargett added.
Jones-Kirk, meanwhile, is also part of the team, but focuses on developing personal plans for individuals to get off the streets. This approach, she said, is needed because every homeless individual’s situation is different as there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
“The conversation of homelessness with the city didn’t start in October (2017),” she said. “What changed our thinking was wanting to take a collaborative effort. We realized every department within the city of Carlsbad has some touch with a homeless person.”
City Manager Kevin Crawford spearheaded the new collaborative effort, Jones-Kirk said, to research the overlaps and gaps with addressing the issue. The Homeless Outreach Team, she added, is delivering results, although it’s a long-term effort and success isn’t necessarily defined by speed.
One fundamental change, Jones-Kirk said, was bringing services to the homeless and not referring people to facilities or service providers in Oceanside, Encinitas or Escondido.
“We need to be doing that street outreach,” she said. “That’s where Bryan hit the ground running and building those relationships.” He took the model of how other cities have been successful and aims to add to that, she added.
The city’s plan is currently under review and Jones-Kirk said the budget proposal includes a contract request for two social workers for the city, which would alleviate some of the duties taken on by the police department.
“Those partnerships don’t go away when the social workers come in,” she said. “They just complement what our plan is and allow us to work with somebody with the ultimate goal of getting them into housing.”
The only shelter in Carlsbad is La Posada, an all-men’s facility run by faith-based charities.