VISTA — A Vista-based nonprofit that helps the homeless has asked the city of Vista and other surrounding communities for financial help. Solutions for Change CEO Chris Megison spoke at Vista’s City Council meeting Aug. 8, wanting to know if it would consider helping the organization with $140,000.
Mayor Judy Ritter presented the item for discussion.
“As a result of the federal and state policy changes, initiated through the prior administration and then implemented here locally for the San Diego County Continuum of Care, Solutions for Change can no longer receive homeless assistance funding,” said Ritter, noting the organization’s drug-free housing environment for their families.
According to Ritter, Housing and Urban Development rules have “stripped away” the organization’s core organizational policies.
“By not taking the federal funding, they (Solutions for Change) lost their funding, and so they’re asking for $140,000 from our city,” she said.
The federal money is tied to the policy called Housing First. The program helps people get into homes. However, residents don’t have to be drug-free and sober.
This goes against the rules at Solutions for Change.
Megison began by sharing that 18 years ago, he stood in front of the Vista City Council asking if members would consider giving $100,000 to help a newly established Solutions for Change. And they did. Since that initial investment, Solutions for Change has helped 850 families and has redirected 2,200 children from poverty and homelessness. According to the records, 278 of those families came from Vista.
“We spend about $60,000 to take a family from dependency and totally destitute to a family that we deliver back to the community which is now off welfare, TANF, food stamps, employed and healthy,” he said. “We’ve spent about $17.4 million dollars just for the Vista families. In that, the $100,000 represented about one-half of 1 percent to deliver that kind of savings, that kind of impact, and also from that, we track the cost savings to the public.”
Megison wanted the City Council to know that the organization saved $51 million in tax payer funds since its inception and delivered roughly $120,000 of earned income through jobs back into the community from those who were once unemployed and dependent.
“The request today is to firewall and protect Solutions for Change from losing that investment and what we’ve done in this city,” he said. “Because the federal government now, for a lot of reasons that I know most of you here are familiar with, has decided that the way to solve homelessness is through a new design called Housing First.
In the Housing First design, they require nonprofits, like Solutions, to house active drug addicts in our sober programs and strip us of our ability to do our required workforce training.”
Last year, Megison voluntarily gave $600,000 back to the federal and state government because the organization didn’t like the conditions.
He also pointed out that they were about two years away from making Solutions for Change a free market — a social enterprise solution which would be 100 percent funded by the private sector without the help of federal and state dollars.
Since Solutions returned the money, it has raised $300,000 in its “Our Proud Funding Campaign.” However, they are still short.
Deputy Mayor John Franklin shared that he thought it was important for someone trying to stay clean to have a sober housing option.
“I don’t think that’s a Republican or Democrat or a rich or a poor philosophy,” he said. “I think we can all understand that if you’re a recovering drug addict and you live next to somebody who’s actively using drugs that presents a real danger to the recovering addict.
We do need programs to house them and then get them into treatment, but it is very important that we have programs like this that are for folks who really understand that they’ve got an opportunity to turn their life around who are willing to invest in themselves. I think that’s what’s great about the Solutions model.”
Franklin questioned what the financial impact of $140,000 would be. And more importantly, whether it something the city of Vista could afford.
Councilwoman Amanda Rigby agreed about Solutions for Change. For her, it was one of the few programs that worked. Still, she said $140,000 was a lot of money.
“Before I can say yes to $140,000 just off the top of my head here, I would have to agree with Deputy Mayor Franklin,” she said. “I want to know exactly where it’s coming from. It’s not that I want to say no. I don’t have enough information right now to say yes.”
Vista’s City Manager Patrick Johnson explained that the resources could be used from the Affordable Housing Funds.
“If you would like, based if your recommendation is to go forward, staff will evaluate it and give you a financial breakdown of the funds that we have going forward that are not allocated and provide that to you,” he said.
Council members directed staff to bring back a full analysis at a future date.