The city of Vista is moving forward with creating a strategic homeless plan. There are nearly 300 homeless individuals in the city, many in encampments or in dirt lots such as this one. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Homeless plan coming together in Vista

VISTA — Step by step, the city is moving forward to putting together its homeless strategic plan.

During its Oct. 22 meeting, the City Council directed staff to move forward on several issues including plans for addiction, outreach and more.

As of the 2019 Point-In-Time County, the city had 285 homeless residents. Of those, 174 are sheltered, 143 are in transitional housing, 122 are unsheltered and 31 in emergency shelters, according to a staff report during the council’s June 4 special meeting.

Still, it’s a decline in homelessness since 2018, where 490 homeless were counted. In North County, 1,540 individuals were identified as homeless, whether sheltered or unsheltered, according to the count.

Amanda Lee, Vista’s housing programs manager, said the city is using data-based information to craft the plan, along with meeting several goals such as improving quality of life, prevention and reduction, enhancing outreach and education and legislative advocacy.

The council directed staff to return with more information regarding several issues within its plan. Those include encampment cleanup and housing placement, safe parking with case management, downtown outreach and enhancing community outreach.

The lack of housing availability, meanwhile, compounds the encampment issue, staff reported. Due to the lack of housing, whether it’s affordable or transitional, the staff recommended not to implement a specific plan, but did prioritize encampment cleanups, especially in biologically sensitive areas and places with “significant” health and safety risks.

Councilman John Franklin said 23 acres behind Costco is an environmental preserve, but dozens of people are camped out. He said the creek has been overrun with garbage and the makeup of the area has changed radically.

City Manager Patrick Johnson said the city will engage in an encampment cleanup off Hacienda Drive this month, the area Franklin mentioned. In total, the city has done six cleanups this year removing 16 tons of debris, staff reported.

Franklin, though, said the larger problem is substance abuse.

“They’ve spent their rent money on heroin,” Franklin said. “Until we help them to address their addiction to heroin or methamphetamine, they’re not going to make decisions to enable them to get into housing, no matter what the cost.”

He continued with a passionate speech about moving forward, and quickly, with addressing addiction and mentally ill persons. He said addiction is the No. 1 problem for the chronically homeless, and the debate around high housing costs is a “straw man” argument.

Councilwoman Corinna Contreras said the county must take responsibility for some of the issues in the city, while Councilwoman Amanda Rigby said it is important for the city to collaborate with other government agencies.

In addition, she said the cleanups must remain and would like to see them increased. Rigby also railed against the state legislature and how those who are incarcerated are not allowed, by law, to have court-mandated drug programs.

“There are so many different levels and facets to this problem,” Rigby added. “We can’t solve by ourselves by throwing money at and doing it piecemeal. We have to do it together and do it all at the same time.”

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