The Coast News Group

Encinitas hosts online workshop for draft Homeless Action Plan

ENCINITAS — The City of Encinitas presented a draft of its Homeless Action Plan to the public during an online community workshop on Monday, August 17, which included an hour-long Q&A wherein residents expressed both frustration and interest in working towards solutions.

The forum, hampered by current county health restrictions on public gatherings, was held virtually on Zoom and hosted by the City. The virtual forum featured LeSar Development Consultants (LDC), a social innovation firm contracted to address housing and homeless issues in Encinitas.

The full forum can be watched online and the draft plan can be reviewed here.

In summary, LDC states, “some clear patterns and needs emerged from [our research.]  We used those patterns and needs to develop clear actionable steps that the City of Encinitas and its’ partners can take to improve the effectiveness of the homeless response and supportive housing system in Encinitas.”

Describing the current state of housing and homelessness in Encinitas, LDC drew on primary source interviews with those experiencing homelessness, statistics from the state, county and neighboring cities, and input from providers, including local volunteer and faith-based organizations.

In 2018-2019, Community Resource Center (CRC) served 860 homeless individuals, breaking down the group into several key demographics- 11% were 65 or older, 35% were disabled, and 8% were veterans. The CRC also served 128 people living in their vehicles, the majority of which had only lived so for less than a year.

Furthermore, according to data compiled by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, 15% of the homeless population is Black American while only 0.8% of the population identifies as Black/African American, indicating racial disparities among Encinitas’ homeless.

Based on such statistics and other research detailed in the draft plan, the LDC identified a series of “needs” including a clear and singular plan moving forward, increased temporary and permanent housing, coordination between contracted and volunteer service providers, as well as increased mental health and substance abuse services.

LDC’s Homeless Action Plan lists three main goals encompassing all of the city’s needs:

Goal One – Increase the Capacity of the City and the Community to End Homelessness in Encinitas

Goal Two – Increase the Capacity of the Homeless Response and Supportive Housing Services System

Goal Three – Increase the Availability of Interim and Permanent Housing.”

Through the entire presentation, participants were permitted to submit questions visible to the public in a Q&A box. Among the questions, were several individuals who expressed extreme frustration with Encinitas’ current homeless situation.

Concerns ranged from the number of homeless individuals living in public parks and on beaches and the city’s method of counting and contacting individuals to drug and alcohol testing and the increased need for more temporary shelters, among other issues.

The virtual forum allowed participants to continually type comments, not only questions, into the forum’s Q&A box. Through the entire event, select community members continually disagreed with LDS’s facts and research, submitting long paragraphs describing unproven conspiracy theories and their own anecdotal observations.

LDC acknowledged the passionate opinions of those residents, answering as many questions as the two-hour time period allowed.

In speaking with the Coast News after the event, John Van Cleef, the CEO of Encinitas Community Resource Center, discussed some of the common themes raised by participants including the need for increased shelter beds.

Van Cleef heard and understood the comments, acknowledging increasing beds is a solution, however, he described the situation as a “Catch-22.”

“We can only put an emergency shelter in a light industrial or business park zoned lot, by right,” Van Cleef said. “Both of those zoning areas in Encinitas are currently filled. We would need to up-zone or change the zoning for another piece of property, which would require a vote of the people.

“In my experience, the loudest voices who say, ‘build shelters,’ are also the first voices who opposing any zoning changes to place an emergency shelter in an area that is near residential neighborhoods. If often boils down to the acronym — ‘Not In My Backyard’ (NIMBY).”

The Encinitas City Council will review the Homeless Action Plan at a council meeting tentatively scheduled for September 16. Until September 10, the city will continue to receive comments and questions on the draft, implementing them into the staff report to the council.

For residents passionate about improving the lives of Encinitas’ homeless population, Task 4 of LDC’s Goal 1 proposes establishing a working group or task force of “business owners, homeless service providers, people with lived experience, community members, and City staff” to meet regularly reviewing programs and progress. Individuals interested in learning more may email [email protected].

Faith-based organizations, such as St. Andrews Episcopal Church, are also currently accepting volunteers wishing to assist the homeless population. Those interested may email [email protected].