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Vista moves forward with homeless plan

VISTA — Homelessness is a sincere concern for every city in San Diego County.

And Vista is no different as the City Council held a marathon special session on June 4 to break down the city’s strategic plan. Although no formal plan was adopted, city staff will return in September with another presentation and possible action item for the council, according to Amanda Lee, the city’s housing programs manager.

Staff presented numerous concerns, tactics and strategies to the council, and the council returned with five core areas of focus for the next meeting. Those include reduction, prevention, improving quality of life, enhancing community outreach and legislative outreach.

The city has also contract with H.G. Consulting Group to assist with the creation of the plan.

Lee said the council is also considering forming a Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), like those in Carlsbad and Oceanside, although those cities combine those efforts with their respective police and housing departments.

Vista contracts its law enforcement with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, so its potential HOT may have a different structure, Lee added.

“They want a deeper dive of all the strategies,” she said. “The Point-in-Time Count only gives, really, a narrow scope of what homelessness is.”

In the meantime, Lee said city staff is researching what other cities are doing, taking a deeper dive into their programs, while also evaluating service providers, law enforcement, financial assistance programs and desire outcomes.

As of the 2019 Point-in-Time Count conducted countywide, Vista had 296 homeless residents; although Vista and Bonsall were combined by the county. She said Vista’s figure is roughly 285.

“This is an important issue,” Councilman John Franklin said. “I want to get into the details. How many people from year-to-year get into chronic homelessness?”

Of those, 174 in Vista are sheltered, 143 are in transitional housing, 122 are unsheltered and 31 in emergency shelters, according to the staff report.

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

And while city finances are scarce, Lee said a line item in the Fiscal Year 2019-20 state budget recently passed $1 million for homeless prevention for the four cities in Assembly District 76 with up to $250,000 for each city to address the issue through Encinitas-based Community Resource Center.

“North San Diego County, and specifically the communities I represent including Carlsbad, Oceanside, Encinitas, Vista, and Camp Pendleton, has struggled in years past to get their fair share of resources.,” Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath said in a statement. “Since taking office in December, I have made it my top priority to advocate for our region, and I am proud to say that it has resulted in significant investments for Assembly District 76 from this new state budget.”

Other approaches, in addition to HOT, being considered are hiring a homeless coordinator; creating an inclusionary housing program, resource guide and jobs program; and more affordable housing, such as tiny homes, to name a few.

Additionally, the council also discussed at length the root causes of homelessness, such as drug addiction and housing.

“The council’s main thing is what does the homeless population look like,” Lee said. “It’s a tough subject and the council is taking this seriously.”

Photo Caption: 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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