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A homeless person sleeps in front of a vacant convenience store two buildings away from Interfaith Community Services’ Turk Recuperative Care Center. Photo by Samantha Nelson
A homeless person sleeps in front of a vacant convenience store two buildings away from Interfaith Community Services’ Turk Recuperative Care Center. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Interfaith denies Escondido police chief’s allegations of permit violations

ESCONDIDO — Interfaith Community Services is denying the police chief’s allegations that the nonprofit has repeatedly violated its conditional use permit, a legal document that allows the homeless service organization to operate its shelter beds and services in the city.

Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso sent a letter dated Feb. 26 addressed to Interfaith CEO Greg Anglea that listed several alleged violations after the police department’s Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving Units noticed Interfaith’s headquarters at 550 W. Washington Avenue ranked among the top 10 locations for calls for service in the city. 

“My officers noted daily, recurring signs of crime and disorder associated with your business, along with repeated violations of your conditional use permit,” Varso wrote. 

A statement from Logan Goverman, marketing and advocacy strategist for Interfaith, said the claims were unsubstantiated.

Varso’s alleged violations include the presence of trash, litter or other solid waste, shopping carts, food containers, suitcases, bags, bicycles, and other similar items outside the building in public view or on adjacent public rights-of-way, as prohibited by the permit. 

Anglea disputed each of Varso’s claims, noting that Interfaith site security staff complete hourly patrols of the exterior of its property 24/7 and maintain a “clean and professional environment inside and outside” of the headquarters. 

Varso also cited loitering outside of the building and increased calls for service in the area as violations of the CUP. The police chief said that calls have steadily increased over the last several months.

Anglea noted that Varso only used data between 2017 and 2019, which he said contradicts more recent data from the police department showing no significant increases in calls between 2021 and 2023. 

Varso also alleged that Interfaith did not respond adequately to requests for information regarding its services. 

The permit states that the police department’s referrals should receive the highest priority. Varso pointed out that Interfaith had not housed a family with four small children whom the department had referred due to a three-month waitlist period, suggesting this was another violation.

Anglea said that was false.

“Interfaith is currently providing services to the family referenced, and in the interaction described, Interfaith offered EPD additional resources to consider,” Anglea said via email. “It is a sad example of the frustrating reality that there are usually no available shelter beds for individuals or families in North County, not a recrimination of Interfaith’s partnership with EPD.”

Interfaith Community Services is headquartered at 550 W. Washington Ave. in Escondido. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Interfaith Community Services is headquartered at 550 W. Washington Ave. in Escondido. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Lastly, Varso alleged that Interfaith’s decision to move its Haven House general homeless shelter beds at 550 W. Washington Ave. into the Turk Recuperative Care Center at 555 N. Centre City Pkwy. was unpermitted, thus another violation of the CUP. 

“Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in an increase of calls for service to the Turk Center, as well as significant increases in crime, disorder and calls for service to the former Rancho Las Palmas restaurant immediately north of the Turk Center,” Varso wrote.

Interfaith moved Haven House, which previously had 49 beds, into the 106-bed Turk Center last year after experiencing a shortfall in funds to operate the shelter. For now, Interfaith, which is the city’s only homeless shelter provider, can only offer 15 general shelter beds.

Interfaith also runs a completely full family shelter.

Varso announced that he would suspend the COPPS Unit’s project for Interfaith, suggesting that the organization “has little interest in working with the Escondido Police Department.”

“For this reason, I must allocate my limited resources to other areas of the city in need of assistance,” Varso wrote.

The police department did not respond to The Coast News’ requests for comment.

Interfaith staff are both disappointed by the letter and concerned about its implications. The letter was sent two days before the City Council adopted a controversial homeless policy that is highly critical of the Housing First approach to homelessness, which Interfaith follows.

Anglea said Interfaith has expressed its interest in working more closely with city leaders to increase shelter beds and other services for unhoused people in the city but feels as though they are being ignored. 

The council’s approval included a direction to staff to explore enacting a moratorium on homelessness services in the downtown-specific plan area and a surrounding six-block buffer zone. According to Mayor Dane White, the moratorium request was in response to the county’s recent consideration of adding a temporary homeless shelter on East Valley Parkway near downtown. 

Interfaith’s Turk Center and headquarters are located within the proposed buffer zone, although the organization is safe from the moratorium as long as its CUP remains in place. Interfaith leaders fear the CUP challenge, paired with the moratorium proposal, could be an attempt to reduce or end the organization’s services.

In response, Interfaith seeks to form a citizens’ task force on homelessness.

“This task force will do what city leadership has failed to do,” Goverman said. “It will bring together a diversity of perspectives and voices, including business leaders, concerned citizens, faith communities, persons with lived homeless experience, service providers, and if they are willing to participate, city staff and leaders.”

According to the mayor, neither the City Council nor city staff have discussed reducing, limiting, or eliminating services at Interfaith. The moratorium proposal was in response to the county’s shelter proposal, the mayor noted.

“With respect to the CUP violations, compliance is expected of any service provider or business within the city,” White said via email. “Interfaith was made aware of these violations in October and although initially worked with the city towards compliance, cooperation was ultimately lost. Although my request to explore a moratorium coincides with the letter of violations, in reality, the two are unrelated.”

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