The Coast News Group
The Regional Task Force on the Homeless found the number of first-time homeless people in the county increased from 2,326 to 4,152 in 2020. Courtesy photo
The Regional Task Force on the Homeless found the number of first-time homeless people in the county increased from 2,326 to 4,152 in 2020. Courtesy photo
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Escondido seeks more regional collaboration in homeless outreach efforts

ESCONDIDO — As the city of Escondido and San Diego County as a whole are seeing an increase of homeless individuals on the street, likely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Escondido City Council is increasing its homeless outreach efforts and seeking collaboration with other cities.

According to last year’s We All Count (Point-in-Time) report, Escondido’s homeless population consists of 447 individuals, an increase from 350 in 2019.

The annual point-in-time count, a one-night event that usually occurs in January, was not taken this year because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus. 

Countywide, a Homeless Crisis Response System report from 2020, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless found the number of first-time homeless people in the county increased from 2,326 in 2019 to 4,152 in 2020, a 79% jump. The previous year saw a 6% decrease from 2018.

“More individuals and households received services than ever before. A total of 38,023 people received some form of housing and services from the homeless system that spans services such as homelessness prevention through permanent supportive housing,” the report said. “This is in contrast to the 7,658 people that were counted during the annual Point-In-Time count on a single night in January 2020, which only counts those living on the streets or in shelters.”

Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith, which is headquartered in Escondido, told The Coast News that they are in the process of doubling their homeless outreach team and setting up a hotline for community members to use when asking Interfaith to engage with a homeless individual.

“I think at this phase in the COVID pandemic we are definitely seeing more individuals on the streets of our communities and that’s, that’s true throughout the North County communities that we serve,” Anglea said. “I think that COVID has been difficult on everybody, and that is certainly true of individuals who are unsheltered and individuals with health conditions and mental health issues and addiction issues. And a lot of those people are unfortunately living on our streets, so the needs are definitely greater.”

Anglea added that Interfaith is also expanding one of their shelters as they eliminate physical distancing, and will also be helping individuals pay their first six months’ rent their security deposit to help them get off the streets and moved into an apartment of their own.

He noted that this is thanks to increased funding from the City of Escondido, which is a result of federal COVID relief funds.

As the numbers continue to increase, Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara told The Coast News that he wants to see more countywide collaboration and believes addressing the city’s high homeless population should be a regional effort.

“What people care about here, right now, is homelessness,” McNamara said. “The question becomes, and I think this is a legitimate question, if we don’t treat this as a regional problem, is it fair that Escondido — because we have Interfaith here and a few other things — are we the go-to location? Because now, it’s tapping into our local resources. Or should this be a county issue?”

Steps have recently been taken countywide to address homelessness: The county Board of Supervisors recently voted to fund 10 outreach workers in North County and created a Department of Homeless Solutions and Equitable Communities. 

The San Diego Rescue Mission is also looking at opening shelters in North County.

“There’s a lot more collaboration than there was even just a couple of years ago,” Anglea said. “And the county, in particular, is really stepping up to identify where they can bring in resources to help people overcome homelessness and to address homelessness, and they’re very interested to work with each of our North County cities.

“I would just say though, we do still have work to do when it comes to creating a fully coordinated strategy for homelessness in North County,” Anglea continued. “In North County, the service providers who are addressing homelessness work very closely in partnership together… the North County cities have made some progress in working together, but there’s still a need for a much higher level of coordination.”