ENCINITAS — A lagging economy fueled by stagnant job growth and longer periods of unemployment is an impetus for the increased needs of families throughout North County.
While federal, state and local governments wrangle over how to close deficits in their already lean budgets, community organizations have experienced an increase in the number of individuals seeking assistance.
In a city where the median household income is an estimated $99,043, according to SANDAG — San Diego’s regional planning agency — Encinitas would appear to be in good shape. However, the figure is gaping with cracks according to officials from the Community Resource Center, where more and more residents are seeking financial help; many of them for the first time.
Sabrina, who asked that her name be changed for this article, said the loss of her job and the plunge that her modest investments took last year was enough to drive her family into poverty. “We still live in our house but it won’t be long before we lose it unless I’m able to find steady work,” she said.
The 43-year-old accountant said she worked for the same company in San Diego for 13 years until she was laid off in 2008. “Like a lot of people, I thought it was temporary, I thought they would hire me back when things started to turn around,” she said. “But things have just gotten worse.”
Sabrina has two high school-aged children who are weathering the storm with her. She laments the state of her financial affairs. “I try to keep it from my kids but they know we are in trouble (financially) and it is very stressful,” she said. “I don’t think people understand how quickly you can end up in a bread line, even in a place like Encinitas with an advanced degree, a nice house and a decent car.”
The single mother visits the center to help supplement her pantry and has recently applied for food stamps. “It takes a lot to swallow my pride and stand in line for food,” she said, choking back tears, “but I have to feed my children.”
Lauren Kennedy, 64, started out as a client at the center and while she continues to receive assistance, she is one of the hundreds of volunteers who maintain the services.
Kennedy lost her job as a caterer and was unable to find work. She’s worked as a corporate caterer for high profile businesses in the past but now works piece-meal and collects a small social security stipend.
“The best thing that makes me feel good is that I can help people,” she said. Kennedy often uses her skills as a caterer to help people design nutritious meals from the food they receive at the center.
Laurin Pause, the center’s executive director, said that not only has the number of people in need of services increased, but also the client profile. “There are more families in the Interfaith Shelter this year than last,” she said, referring to the temporary shelter that rotates from one faith-based community to another throughout the winter in North County.
The Alliance for Regional Solutions Winter Shelter is almost to capacity since opening on Dec. 1. “It usually takes a month for the 200 beds to fill up,” she said.
In addition to homeless families, Pause said her caseworkers are seeing more young adults, often only 18 to 20 years old, displaced. “These are kids who come from families that are struggling and can’t afford to support them once they turn 18,” Pause said.
The most pressing issue that contributes to the need for services is the lack of employment opportunities in the area. “There just aren’t enough jobs,” she said. “The health of the job market is critical.”
Unfortunately, Pause doesn’t see a light on the economic horizon. As a former business executive, she is dialed into the reality of the economic downturn on businesses. “I’ve had some people tell me they don’t have enough orders (to fill) to start hiring for at least another year,” she said.
Kennedy said that her interaction with many of the clients at the center’s food bank sheds light on the faces behind the statistics. “People think Encinitas is a wealthy area but the economy is affecting everybody,” she said. “Its sad what’s going on here, so many people have lost their jobs.”
In her two years as a volunteer and client, Kennedy said she has never seen a higher need for services at the center. “Some people are almost embarrassed to be in the food line,” she said. “I explain to them that it’s OK, we’ve all been there, we’ve all needed help.”
“There’s no throwaway people,” Kennedy said. “Everybody is worth a chance.”