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The City Council approved a pilot program for hotel vouchers for the homeless during its April 27 meeting. It will cost $3.2 million and is expected to begin in June. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Carlsbad OKs homeless hotel voucher program

CARLSBAD — A one-year pilot program to house the homeless through hotel vouchers was approved by the City Council during its April 27 meeting. The goal is to reduce Carlsbad’s homeless population by 50% over five years.

The hotel program is estimated to cost $3.2 million, according to Gary Barberio, deputy city manager of community services.

He said the city is slated to begin the program in June, although no hotels have agreed to join the program. Barberio said the city has several leads and those efforts will ramp up over the next several weeks.

The council also approved hiring another sergeant and two officers for the Homeless Outreach Team, a full-time employment and benefits specialist, a funding agreement with Catholic Charities to increase services at La Posada shelter and expanding services with the Community Resource Center for $350,000.

With the city’s new pilot program, Barberio said Carlsbad will apply for a reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Project Roomkey, although it’s not guaranteed.

Mayor Matt Hall was the lone no vote for the program, citing the lack of a guarantee the program will be reimbursed.

Another challenge for the city is pinpointing the exact number of homeless in the city. According to the 2019 Point-In-Time Count (2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the city had 148 homeless, although other estimates put the number closer to 500, according to the staff report.

The council also opted to not hire additional social workers since the San Diego County Board of Supervisors recently approved its own homeless pilot program where 10 social workers will be assigned to eight cities in North County.

Holly Nelson, the city’s senior homeless program manager, said the city will attempt to group the homeless in hotels in blocks of 40 or 50 rooms per hotel. However, sobriety and background checks are not required, she added.

Nelson said from March to July 2020, the city worked with Interfaith Community Services to offer temporary hotel rooms, noting 59 people found transitional or permanent housing.

“All participants must sign an agreement and stay in the hotel,” Nelson said. “It will have a good neighbor clause — good behavior and no panhandling.”

Violence and drug use will disqualify participants, she added. However, Nelson stressed finding transitional or permanent housing takes time and the city will make mistakes along the way.

Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci said homelessness is one of the most challenging social issues facing the state. He said the department uses a compassion-first approach, then enforcement. Gallucci noted there are some barriers doing enforcement on some issues preventing police from performing alternative solutions.

Additionally, residents in Waters End and other developments near Poinsettia Avenue and Avenida Encinas voiced concerns over rising crime and homeless parked in RVs, some for nearly a year on Avenida Encinas.

Gallucci said those homeless individuals are not a result of the state’s early release program for prisoners, but acknowledged the department responds almost daily to calls from the area.

“The system is not robust enough to get folks what they need,” he said. “The system isn’t set up to get that person the long-term care they need. That’s a bigger problem than Carlsbad can handle.”

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