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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Vista’s homeless plan coming together

VISTA — The city is one step closer to completing a robust plan to address the ever-present homeless population.

Vista, like most cities in San Diego County, has seen its homeless population increase over the years and, like its neighbors, is searching for successful ways to tackle one of the most difficult issues in the state.

While no formal action was taken, the City Council gave staff the green light to come back with more information and work plans during its Sept. 24 meeting. Staff will return in November in hopes of the council approving an official plan.

“This funding coming to our cities … I think this is a really great start for our master plan and action plan,” Councilwoman Amanda Rigby said. “I’m excited by this, but I’m not excited by the problem.”

This is the fifth meeting in the last year to drum up ideas and maximize state grants, service providers and other resources to get a hold of the problem.

Assistant City Manager Aly Zimmerman and Amanda Lee, the housing programs manager, presented several options to the council including financial assistance and the HomeShare program.

Vista has the potential to receive up to $750,000 in state and federal funds to tackle the problem. Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), who represents Vista, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside, was able to secure $250,000 for each city in this year’s budget.

However, the $250,000 must be administered by the Community Resource Center (CRC) in Encinitas, which concerns several Vista City Council members as there is no clear path of what kind of involvement or collaboration the CRC will provide.

Regardless, those funds would be used for diversion and prevention programs.

In addition, Vista can apply for $350,000 through Senate Bill 2 and use $150,000 of its federally funded Community Development Block Grant monies.

Other financial assistance possibilities include financial literacy, tenant protections and rapid rehousing, although it received pushback from some public speakers as it can be too costly for those seeking help and enflame the cycle of homelessness.

“My concerns with rapid rehousing is to ensure people are not put in financially straining situations, which would lead to them being back on the street,” Councilman Joe Green said.

The HomeShare program also received a thumbs up to be pursued as the council wanted more insight into the program. In general, HomeShare allows a homeowner, or renter with landlord approval, to rent a room to someone in financial dire straits.

Additionally, the homeowner rents rooms or shares in exchange for monetary compensation or assistance with household tasks, Zimmerman said.

“There is a significant intake process and those who don’t qualify will be referred to other service providers,” she said. “It decreases rent burden on both parties and sense of isolation, increase in sense of safety, maintains connections to familiar community.”

Councilman John Franklin appeared to be on the fence about HomeShare, citing safety concerns, but ultimately said he was not against receiving more information. Councilwoman Corinna Contreras also had concerns with a lack of reliable data to track the success of the program.

Two veterans spoke in support of the city’s movement forward, although they urged the council to consider some other ideas as well.

Michael Joseph, a former homeless vet with schizophrenia, said one issue is the need for more hospitals with mental health facilities, staff and funding in North County. He also urged hospitals to give classes to patients to identify their own symptoms of mental illness.

Another concern, Joseph said, is broader training to sheriff’s deputies, so they can identify mentally ill people and transport them to a hospital instead of jail.

Anthony Wright, a former Marine and who was homeless for eight months, has become an advocate for student homeless prevention this past year at Palomar College.

He said a significant population of homeless is veterans and the city should work with Camp Pendleton leaders to help transition veterans out of the service. He recalled his own experience when he left the Marines and thought he was on solid footing.

“I thought I had a solid plan at the time, but pride got in the way,” he said. “Help the veterans who’ve helped us so much. Work with the leaders at Camp Pendleton.”

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