CARLSBAD — The City of Carlsbad’s goal to reduce the unsheltered homeless population is making small, positive strides.
The Carlsbad City Council received its second quarterly update on Feb. 22 from the Carlsbad Police and Housing and Homeless Services departments regarding the city’s homeless population covering the period from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2021.
Additionally, the city received the first documented use of its hotel voucher program, recording a total of five households spending eight nights in local participating lodgings.
In developing a new plan to tackle the problem, the City Council approved a $6.8 million budget aimed to reduce homelessness by 50% in five years for individuals who want help. The program started in July.
When the program started, the city estimated between 150 to 500 homeless people.
Mandy Mills, director of Housing and Homeless Services, said the program incorporates social workers, regional collaboration, sanitation, temporary shelter and “compassionate” enforcement, to name a few.
“It’s a tough, complex issue,” Mills said. “In the first three months, I thought we’ve made good progress and continued that into the second quarter. Some of the newer things in that second quarter that came online helped. I think the shopping carts are probably the most visible for residents in the Village.”
Lt. Darbie Ernst, of the Carlsbad Police Department, said a new enforcement policy went into effect Nov. 11 after being approved by the City Council. The updated ordinance centers on unlawful camping, fires, cooking, storage of belongings, aggressive solicitation, trespassing and alcohol in parks, plus others.
However, police calls for service increased by 4% to 13% of all calls, while citations spiked by 16% and homeless-related mental health holds dropped by 17%, Ernst reported. Arrests rose by 1% compared to the previous quarter from 17% to 18%.
Also, the city recovered 37 shopping carts during the period, although the carts recovery efforts started in mid-November.
As for the calls for service according to Ernst, a total of 2,169 were made, which accounts for 13% of all calls to the police department for the quarter. Of those, 1,021 were in response to a complaint or request, while 1,148 were “proactive” department-initiated calls, per the report.
Regarding the hotel vouchers, the program began on Oct. 11 with five households participating in the program.
“Candidates for the voucher program must meet strict guidelines, including assisting social workers in developing long-term housing solutions,” Ernst said. “Although only one household of the five was successful in the program during this period, we are pleased with the program’s recent success. To date, nine more households have participated in the voucher program, with eight successfully bridged to substantial options.”
Chris Shilling, the Housing and Homeless Services senior program manager, reported on the status of several contracts with the city. The city and Interfaith Community Services transitioned a total of 15 people into permanent housing and had 29 shelter placements after contacting 269 individuals, he said.
The Community Resource Center enrolled 17 new participants with 10 going into permanent housing and five directed to higher-level resources.
The city also had 15 homeless encampment cleanups.
Councilman Keith Blackburn asked how the city and police address conservatorships. Ernst said they are a civil process, and the police department is not directly involved.
She said it is up to the mental health facilities to decide if someone qualifies, although Ernst reported there were two successful conservatorships in the city. Typically, it is very difficult for individuals to be placed under a conservatorship, as reported by The Coast News in its Homeless in North County series.
As for follow-through, Mills said the city tracks participants for at least two years, although some individuals don’t follow through with the program and are back on the streets.
“People can go through tough periods,” she added. “Their willingness to follow through can change over time and we have to stick with it and keep the services open and available.”