Above: A view of Escondido’s commercial district. Courtesy photo
ESCONDIDO — The Escondido City Council recently considered plans and budgets for affordable housing and tackling homelessness.
Starting as a conversation on affordable housing at a May 22 meeting, the deliberations widened to discuss regional cooperation for homelessness, an issue impacting thousands of people throughout North County.
Deliberations started with the city showing that it landed just over $2.5 million in federal dollars for 2019 to spend on those needs.
About $596,821 of that money, under the banner of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOME Investment Partnerships Program, can be used to develop affordable housing.
In a report written by Escondido Housing and Neighborhood Services Manager Karen Youel, who also spoke at the meeting, she explained that home ownership levels in Escondido fall below the national average.
“The rate of homeownership in Escondido is 52 percent, which is lower than the state and national averages of 56 percent and 66 percent respectively as reported by the 2012-2016 Five-Year American Community Survey,” wrote Youel.
To raise that rate, Escondido has created the Homebuyer Entry Loan Program (HELP) via money received from HUD’s HOME Program.
“The program has ebbed with the market,” said Youel. “Primary barriers to using this program are the high cost of housing, the lack of supply of qualifying units and a low subsidy available for Escondido residents.”
Another bucket of federal money that the city has, triple the size of the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Also a HUD program, the $1.8 million in CDBG money can be used more broadly to assist in boosting infrastructure around low-income communities.
An example of where CDBG money goes, according to the documents, is the Meals on Wheels program, a national organization focused on home deliveries of food to low-income seniors. A total of 211 seniors received those deliveries in Escondido on a regular basis for fiscal year 2017-2018, according to the documents.
But because of expressed wide-ranging city needs, and relatively small budget to tackle them, the question of where and how to channel CDBG money vexed City Council members at the meeting.
The council came to a relative consensus that whatever it does to tackle the issues, it should do so as part of a broader North County regional bloc.
A key leader of that particular proposed solution is the Alliance for Regional Solutions, a collective of 73 nonprofit groups, which aims to tackle homelessness from its onset all the way through placing individuals in homes.
“We say, ‘Oh, they do good work,’ but they do good work on a very minimal budget and I think we should consider trying to augment that amount and that we should also try to pressure our neighboring cities to do a little more,” City Councilwoman Olga Diaz said at the meeting. “If every city gave $10,000 or $20,000 more, it goes a long way toward getting people the support they need that we as a city are not providing.”
Diaz also asked Mayor Paul McNamara to “muscle” other regional mayors to facilitate a more robust resource-sharing network among the cities. McNamara, responding, said he will “twist their arms and see what we can do.”
“I think everybody needs to chip in because we’re not going to solve it with the little amount that we have,” Diaz said. “But collectively … we should have enough friends between here and Oceanside to scrape up an additional few hundred thousand dollars in funds altogether.”
Greg Anglea, the CEO of Interfaith Community Services — an Alliance for Regional Solutions member, as well as the chair of the board of directors for the Alliance who spoke at the hearing — said in an interview after the meeting that homelessness impacts close to 10,000 people (a conservative estimate, he added) in the region.
And Anglea suggested that a key first step in tackling the issue is for North County cities to pool money to create a more robust network of homelessness shelters.
Those would be funded, in large part, through another HUD funding stream laid out by Youel, Emergency Services Grants (ESG). HUD has granted Escondido $152,010 in ESG funds for the 2019-2020 cycle.
All of that money, if approved, will go to Interfaith Community Services, which administers the Haven House homeless shelter in Escondido.
Anglea said that Haven House has 49 beds, while Interfaith Community Services as a whole has 230 to 240 beds in the region, administering six shelters. But only thee shelters and 150 beds stay open year-round, with the rest closing during warmer months, due to lack of funding. Currently, shelters are full to capacity in the region.
“One of the reasons that all of the shelters are full is that there are a fair amount of people in the shelters who cannot afford to move out,” said Anglea. “(W)hen we get somebody into our shelters, they can stabilize and get access to medical services, potentially reconnect with family, get a job. So many good things can happen when you have shelter compared to when you’re out on the streets.”
The meeting closed with none of the funding suggestions receiving a vote for now, tabled for further community outreach and deliberation at the next City Council meeting on June 5.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.