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Former Escondido mayor Paul McNamara is the new executive director of Brother Benno's. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Former Escondido mayor Paul McNamara is the new executive director of Brother Benno's. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Former mayor Paul McNamara new head of Brother Benno’s

OCEANSIDE — Paul McNamara, the former mayor of Escondido, has taken over as the new executive director of Brother Benno’s, a nonprofit serving the community’s homeless and low-income households for 40 years.

Brother Benno’s began as a soup kitchen in 1983 and has since expanded its services beyond meals to include providing clothing and hygiene kits, shower access, addiction recovery services and rental assistance, among other benefits.

“We’re more than a soup kitchen,” said McNamara, who started his new role as the organization’s executive director on Aug. 29.

McNamara served as the mayor of Escondido from 2018 to 2022. He has lived in Escondido for over 25 years and served as executive director of the MCRD Museum Foundation.

McNamara became a Marine Corps Colonel after nearly 30 years in the service. As a Marine, he served worldwide, including diplomatic duty with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Mexico City.

He is a member of the Escondido Rotary Club, Escondido Charitable Foundation, American Legion, DAV and VFW groups. He also still serves on the San Diego County Airport Authority Board.

As mayor, McNamara went on several ride-alongs with the police department’s Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving (COPPS) Unit, comprised of a community service officer, six police officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant.

Brother Benno's nonprofit in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Brother Benno’s nonprofit in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Nelson

McNamara compared the unit’s model to the Oceanside Police Department Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), comprised of four officers and sergeant, social workers and volunteers from Interfaith Community Services, Brother Benno’s and others.

Both teams regularly respond to homeless individuals, some of whom have mental health issues that require additional services beyond a police presence. The compassion and aid behind Brother Benno’s logo appealed to McNamara.

“I really loved the compassion of the organization and of the people who work and volunteer here,” McNamara said. “You see the best traits of humanity in the people working here.”

Brother Benno’s has operated out of its current 12,000-square-foot, 3260 Production Avenue location for over 30 years, providing its services to homeless individuals and those on the brink of homelessness. The center includes a dining room, a full kitchen, administrative offices, a clothing room, computer lab, chapel, mobile showers, restrooms and warehouse space.

The organization began as a soup kitchen in downtown Oceanside by Harold and Kay Kutler. They named the organization after Brother Benno Garrity, a Benedictine monk known for helping the city’s low-income residents.

After Harold Kutler’s passing in 2018, the organization went without an executive director, leaving the job to the organization’s board president and members – until now.

Kathleen Diehlmann, manager of volunteer programs at Brother Benno’s, said it was time for the growing 40-year-old organization to have the additional support that an executive director could bring.

“We’re all so busy all of the time, it’s nice to have somebody on a day-to-day basis who can handle overseeing the organization,” Diehlmann said. “Having someone like Mac, with his experience in the Marine Corps and as mayor, it really helps us to be able to communicate with the county, city and neighbors.”

While many people in the Oceanside community support the mission of Brother Benno’s, the organization has been at the center of several complaints from neighboring businesses in the last few years regarding criminal activity in the Oceanside Industrial Park, where the main center is located.

Complaints from neighboring businesses have ranged from trespassing to loitering, littering, overnight camping, harassment, vandalism, crime, substance abuse, theft, reduced property value and loss of revenue. The complaints have suggested that clients of Brother Benno’s are causing the problems. However, the organization maintains that it has banned several offenders known to cause issues in the park.

The city previously amended Brother Benno’s conditional use permit, which allows the organization to operate in the industrial park, in 2021, but more recent complaints have spurred additional amendments to come. The organization has already implemented the new recommendations proposed by OPD, including hiring security and sanitation workers to patrol the area around the center.

According to McNamara, the cost for those additional services is over $200,000 – and it may not be feasible for the organization to continue footing the bill on its own. The organization is considering partnering with other entities or neighboring businesses to help pay for that service.

“We want the businesses to be successful, we want to be good neighbors… but we know that that’s a big bill for us,” he said. “Moneys that go into that service are moneys that don’t go into getting people off the street. We’re a lean operation – most of our resources go toward helping people.”

Brother Benno’s has an approximately $6 million operating budget. However, Diehlmann noted that about $3.5 million comes from in-kind donations, which are goods and services provided rather than money, and go right back into the community. The organization’s largest source of revenue – nearly $1 million – comes from individual donations.

As he eases into the first few weeks of his new role, McNamara seeks ways to improve the organization’s efficiency. He also wants to maintain a good relationship with the neighboring businesses.

At the same time, he also wants to improve how the organization tells its story.

“We’re not telling our story as well as we should,” he said. “We save and change lives, we provide recovery addiction services, we feed the hungry and we represent community pride in the sense of values of Oceanside.”

McNamara noted that Brother Benno’s saves the city “millions” by providing resources for homeless and low-income residents and gives the city “bragging rights.”

“It shows that we’re a compassionate community, that we care about the ‘least of these’ as scripture says, and that we don’t abandon them,” he said.

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