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Encinitas aims to tackle homelessness with two separate votes

ENCINITAS — City Council seems committed to try to face homelessness in the city head on with a pair of votes at its Oct. 23 meeting.

The first was a vote allocating $75,000 from the city’s general fund to hire a consultant to develop a Homeless Action Plan. The second launches a one-year Homeless Outreach Pilot Program in partnership with the Community Resource Center (CRC) and dedicates a full-time sheriff’s deputy to the program.

Both votes were unanimous, 4-0, with Mayor Catherine Blakespear absent.

“Homelessness is complex, it is multi layered, with many different needs of many different people represented,” said John Van Cleef, executive director of the CRC. “Homelessness requires solutions that are multi-faceted and require long-term commitment. And our community has the social, the innovative, the logistical and the capital resources to create an asset-based solution that works for our needs and is both transferable and scalable to other communities.”

The annual “Point in Time” count, done in January in the middle of the night, has been relatively consistent over the past three years, showing that there are about 120 homeless people identified in Encinitas, 79 counted outdoors as “unsheltered” and 41 counted as “sheltered.”

Van Cleef said that number doesn’t account for the larger “invisible” homeless population: the couch surfers, car dwellers, and office sleepers. He said the center provided service to 860 residents last year who identified as homeless.

“That’s 740 more people than identified during the point in time count who do not have a permanent home they can afford,” he said, adding that the population included people 65 years or older, veterans, the disabled, and those displaced as a result of leaving and surviving domestic violence.

Furthermore, he stated, 68% reported mental health problems, 58% had physical health problems, and 21% found themselves homeless because of financial issues.

Van Cleef said Encinitas and the CRC placed 34 previously homeless people in permanent households through the Opening Doors Program, and the CRC placed an additional 42 households through private and other government funding in the same time period.

Councilman Tony Kranz recalled how in 1983, shortly after signing up for the National Guard, he spent two months in Anchorage, Alaska, without a job or a permanent place to live.

“I had a car, a 1963 Chrysler 300, so I threw everything that I owned in that car and spent a couple of months couch surfing and doing things that I didn’t ever expect to do, one of which was living in the Brother Francis Shelter in downtown Anchorage,” Kranz recounted. “It was what you might call an eye-opening experience.”

He added, “I have experienced a lot of life between then and now but that is something that I have never forgotten, and I do bring that to this issue.”

Councilman Joe Mosca said he wanted to make sure the Homeless Action Plan will bring the city some best practices, based on some successes seen in other parts of the state, and that other funding sources aside from the general fund will be identified.

“Everybody is focused on this … up and down the state, county governments are focused on this,” Mosca said. “We’re a small city but this is obviously a big issue and we’re responsible for meeting this, but we’re a small city with not as deep of pockets as other communities and so there’s a lot of other buckets out there.”

Both Mosca and Deputy Mayor Jody Hubbard said they are glad this important issue is being addressed.

“I think as a society we are better off if we always address it, so I’m thrilled we’re doing this,” Hubbard said.